Friday, April 27, 2012

Canadian Crime Wave: Citizen Gangster

Edwin Alonzo Boyd had a hard time making ends meet after his WWII discharge.  Does he blame the Liberal governments of King and St. Laurent?  No, it was the banks’ fault for not underwriting his dream of becoming an actor.  He would make them pay as a mascara-smeared bank robber, who became a mid Twentieth Century Canadian media sensation in the Clyde Barrow mold.  Boyd’s criminal exploits are dramatized in Nathan Morlando’s strangely dour Citizen Gangster (trailer here), which opens today in New York at the IFC Center.

Boyd is good family man, but a bit impetuous.  He quits his job as a bus driver, convinced Lorne Greene offered him an invitation to study acting with him, based on a casual conversation.  However, when Greene’s acting academy turns out to be a dodgy business more interested in tuition than art, Boyd takes out his frustration on a bank.  Yes, it is all Ben Cartwright’s fault and Citizen never lets him off the hook.

Needless to say, Boyd develops a taste for knocking over banks and the public eats up his polite showman shtick.  Pressing his luck, he gets nicked by Detective Rhys, a protégé of his ex-cop father’s.  This is just a momentary setback though.  Hooking up with the Jackson Brothers, Boyd breaks out a jail, launching a major crime spree.

Citizen is a vexing gangster picture that desperately wants viewers to sympathize with Boyd on one hand, but insists on denying them any pleasure from his outrageous antics.  Instead, we are supposed to tut-tut at the economic system (which happened to be socializing at a rapid rate) that could reduce a man to such desperate measures.

Scott Speedman has the perfect devil-may-care presence for the fame-blinded Boyd and he can also croon a passable sentimental ballad.  However, the real brooding intensity comes from Kevin Durand, who largely keeps the film afloat as Lenny Jackson, the former leader of the Jackson gang, forced to come to terms with his less prominent role in what the media insists on calling the Boyd gang.  Brian Cox also delivers a nice scene here and there as Boyd’s somewhat disappointed father.  However, the balance of the Boyd gang and family leave little lasting impression.

Deliberately drab looking and intentionally de-emphasizing the potential action elements, the emotionally frozen Citizen gives nothing to gangster genre fans.  Unfortunately, it does not compensate them with a particularly gripping character study or an especially insightful perspective on the era.  Frankly, it all gets quite draggy at time.  Still, the Lorne Greene references are somewhat amusing.  A frustrating misfire despite Speedman and Durand’s best efforts, Citizen Gangster opens today (4/27) at the IFC Center.