Edwin Alonzo Boyd was one of Canada’s prominent bank robbers following World War II. A splashy, glamorous war vet with a flair for theatrics, he managed to swindle several financial institutions in between two daring prison breaks, all in the name of his wife and children. And yet, the reason why this story hasn’t circulated all that much before “Citizen Gangster” is because Boyd’s story really is a whole lot like any other bank robbers’. Once you’ve seen a few of these movies, there’s not a whole lot of variation.
Scott Speedman is Boyd, a veteran-turned-working stiff who can’t seem to hold onto a job, either due to restlessness or a rough-and-tumble economy. Feeling the crunch of wife Doreen (Kelly Reilly) and their two kids, he also can’t escape his thirst for showmanship. In the first scene, he returns home with bad news banging around in his head, but also a 45 recording of him singing “Fly Me To The Moon.” Things can’t be all that bad if his ego is being fed, even if he can’t seem to get a single acting audition.
With his family pushed to the point of financial desperation, Boyd grabs a gun and lays on some makeshift Kabuki-style makeup, pulling off a series of heists with speed, efficiency, and a movie star twinkle in his eye. Speedman is a perfect casting choice for this part, a guy who isn’t a star but clearly thinks he’s got the moves, pumped by the slightest bit of success even if the cops are slowly moving in. After a series of successful heists, he’s caught at the scene, though he can’t seem to shake his “gotcha” smirk. When Detective Rhys (William Mapother) says, “My wife is going to be happy about this,” Boyd perks up. “Oh, was she a fan?” he roguishly asks, only to be doused with cold water. “No. It means I’ll finally be home early for once.”
In prison, Boyd makes a colorful acquaintance. Lenny Jackson is another former war vet turned bank robber, and lucky for Boyd, he and his brother are planning an escape. The low-temperature appeal of Speedman could only carry the film so far, but as Jackson, Kevin Durand, with his rude musculature and sleazy crooked smile, is a standout. Less fancy than moviestar Boyd, but more of a tough-guy alpha, Durand threatens to steal the movie, adding some much-needed sex appeal and swagger to what is essentially a pretty standard true crime tale.
Writer/director Nathan Morlando gets a few human details accurate, providing one or two fresh touches to a tired genre — Boyd spending time with his family post-breakout must be rudely interrupted by false alarms whenever a siren is heard — but for the most part, there’s the same push-and-pull of criminal activity versus responsibilities. Boyd claims he’s robbing banks for his family, but he can’t resist the good life, not so much the cars or the spending sprees (he is thrifty with his own needs, and never strays from his wife) but the thrill of performance, the glamour of sticking it to the man. After a few robberies with his gang, his peacock strut returns, flirting with tellers and cracking jokes.
The pop-psychology approach to this is found in Boyd’s father Glover, a stern taskmaster who scoffed at Boyd’s post-war ennui. Perfectly enough, he was also a decorated former cop, giving impetus for young Edwin to stick it to authority. Not the freshest idea, and if you had five guesses, you’d predict he was played by Brian Cox. His work in the film is emblematic of the type of picture “Citizen Gangster” ends up being — gruff and monosyllabic at first blush, he ends up showing a surprising bit of tenderness towards the imprisoned son, bringing significant nuance to a thankless role. And if you don’t know where every single one of his scenes is going, you probably have never seen a movie before. [C+]