Citizen Gangster, Nathan Morlando’s gripping directorial debut, is inspired by the true story of notorious Canadian bank robber and gang leader Eddie Boyd. After serving in World War II, Boyd finds himself at home in Toronto with a growing family and no real prospects. There are few jobs, and Boyd is both a dreamer and impulsive—a dangerous combination.
After a stint as a bus driver and a half-hearted stab at Hollywood, the broke family man turns to crime, robbing banks in grease paint and quickly building a reputation as a dashing bandit. Scott Speedman plays Boyd with a deft combination of restraint and boyishness, holding emotions at bay until he erupts into moments of joy, be it a waltz with his wife or a little soft-shoe number on a bank counter for a truly captive audience. Boyd’s wife Doreen, played with grace by Kelly Reilly, never fully signs on for her husband’s new life of crime, neither at the beginning when it seems little more than a lark, nor later when things turn grim.
The first phase of Boyd’s new career ends, predictably, in jail, where he meets fellow bank robbers Lenny and Willie and promptly stages a breakout. His new partners, as well as their young friend Val, waste little time in starting a whole new, and much more lucrative, bank robbery enterprise. Kevin Durand as Lenny, Brendan Fletcher as Willie, and Joseph Cross as Val all acquit themselves well, and Durand in particular stands out for the equal parts of soul and menace that he brings to his role as a damaged (emotionally and physically) veteran and comrade in arms to Boyd.
As with any great crime tale, the good times can only last so long before infighting, the police and boneheaded decisions draw a tight circle of tension around the gang. After a betrayal by one of their molls (a fiery performance from Charlotte Sullivan), things begin to quickly unravel. On the home front, Eddie and Doreen’s relationship doesn’t fare much better.
After another arrest and even more national media attention, things are dire indeed. Boyd’s ex-cop father steps in to try to save Boyd’s soul at least, if not his life, but Boyd refuses. As Eddie’s father, Brian Cox is given precious little to do in the film, but he does it well anyway, translating the great sense of loss that the father of a wastrel son carries—love and disappointment walking hand in hand.
The boys, now known as the Boyd Gang, turn even more desperate until we finally find them huddled in snow-encased ruins much like the ones Eddie and Lenny must have experienced in war-torn Europe.
Today, as many soldiers return from war to a flagging economy, few job prospects, and an indifferent system, Citizen Gangster is a poignant reminder that things haven’t changed all that much.
Morlando and cinematographer Steve Cosens create a muted world of grays and blues dictated by bright light reflected off snow and the black shadows of cells and sad rooms. The music bounces from The Black Keys to a score by Max Richter, and perfectly balances the film’s tension. The narrative itself occasionally lets the tension sag, mainly by focusing attention on less central events (an elopement to Montreal, yet another argument between husband and wife about how bad it is to be a bank robber) and devoting less time to more salient points, such as Boyd’s reaction to a pivotal murder, or to his growing delusion that everything will work out a-okay.
However, the true moments of tension and danger in this film sing, and some moments, big and small, will haunt the viewer, whether it’s a bank robbery, an ambush, or Boyd playfully teaching his children how to weather stolen cash.
Director: Nathan Morlando
Writer: Nathan Morlando
Starring: Scott Speedman, Kelly Reilly, Brian Cox, Kevin Durand
Release Date: Apr. 27