Without knowing much about Nathan Morlando's "Citizen Gangster," I imagined it was going to be a mob oriented film. Perhaps the more apt title might have been "Citizen Bankrobber" as the movie charts the story of Edwin Boyd, a dashing criminal who made a name for himself (as notorious as it may be) in postwar Toronto. A family man and veteran struggling to make ends me, Boyd embarked on a series of daring robberies that initiated a massive manhunt. As he proceeded, he became increasingly flamboyant and epitomized the concept of the charming celebrity criminal. He's not painted as a particularly bad man, but the desperation that fuels his early decisions soon gives way to an unequivocal embracing of the spotlight. He starts to believe his own hype, refusing to veer from his new persona. Anyone that watches their fair share of true life crime will find little that is new or revelatory in this classic and oft-told story. But besides feeling a bit familiar, "Citizen Gangster" is a well acted and well made endeavor that should appeal to anyone interested in the genre or the case in particular.
Scott Speedman plays the title role, and his easy charm really works in this presentation. The story follows the period in his life when Boyd first makes the decision to be an outlaw, through acts of increasing bravado, to his many encounters with the law, to prison escapes, to forming a team of robbers, to the ultimate conclusion. While I won't reveal the particulars of what happens to Boyd (for those who aren't familiar with the tale), I will say stick around for the written synopsis at the finale of the film that updates the character arcs. You might be quite surprised by one of these revelations, it actually puts the entire film into a slightly new light. The movie is really reliant on Speedman and your identification with him, this is one of his more full-bodied performances. Aside from the criminal spree, the most dramatic aspect of the movie is in Speedman's evolving relationship with his family. And these scenes are nicely handled and quietly affecting.
Aside from Speedman, Kelly Reilly makes an impact as his wife. In addition, the actors that comprise his new criminal band add a lively unpredictability to the proceedings. Brian Cox is featured as Speedman's disapproving father (an ex-cop, no less) and while it's always great to see this tremendous actor--he doesn't have a whole lot to do here. I wanted a bit more emphasis on the other side of the equation, like the police investigation angle. But little insight is provided into anything other that the robberies and criminals themselves. From the technical stand-point, the dialogue can be a bit muffled (in an uneven soundtrack) and it's easy to miss whispered conversations and anything bombarded with music. So you have to be attentive to catch everything. And on a visual level, the movie has a washed-out color palette that really accentuates the bleakness and grittiness of the tale (even colors like pink and blue often feel gray). I won't contend that "Citizen Gangster" is necessarily an unmissable crime epic. It is, however, solidly constructed and entertaining. About 3 1/2 stars, I'll round up for the charismatic Speedman. KGHarris, 8/12.