Canadian Public Enemy, Cult of Celebrity in the post WW II era.

I had a day to myself in the big city (Toronto, that is) while my husband was attending a conference there and the kids were home with their Nana.  There is only so much shopping a body can do. And after a morning of walking in uncomfortable but fashionable shoes, I decided to rest my feet catch a movie at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox Venue. This new building is a movie buff’s dream; the auditoriums are huge with spacious seating. At 1:15pm on a beautiful Saturday, it was practically empty. There were perhaps 3 other people in the theatre. It was a lot busier as I left later in the afternoon, much to my delight.

Because limited release films rarely make it to my city, I decided to check out Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster .  I couldn’t think of a better way to rest, stretched out in the dark, eating a lunch of popcorn and diet cola.

I had heard a bit about this Canadian film from one of my favorite radio programs/podcasts, Q on CBC Radio. Jian Ghomeshi interviewed one of the supporting actors, Kevin Durand

(you may know him from a recurring role on LOST) about it and I was ashamed to say that I knew nothing about this famous bank robber from the century past.

Edwin Boyd was a WW II vet who was dissatisfied with his life and work. With a wife and 2 children to support he was made for better things, or so he thought. So he chucks his job, dreams of becoming an actor but decides to get some quick cash by robbing banks. And because he gets away with it, with style and flare and media attention, he becomes intoxicated; there is no turning back. But he is not particularly bright, so the fun only lasts so long before he is nabbed. He meets a gang of bank robbers during his prison stint. When they break out of the joint together, they combine forces and return to terrorizing the banking community. Meanwhile, Boyd’s flare results in the creation of a new folk hero and media darling. That is until a policeman dies and the manhunt turns serious. Much of the film’s climax is about the manhunt and its aftermath.  To say more would risk spoilers.

I enjoyed this film and admire the debut of a Canadian writer – director, Nathan Morlando. Scott Speedman

plays Boyd in a very realistic low key manner. As a citizen leading a double life he is somewhat subdued as are many parts of the film, but then he comes alive when he dons his disguise of heavy makeup and hops over the counter at the bank announcing his illicit intent. Kevin Durand plays Lenny Jackson, his partner in crime who doesn’t quite know what to make of the colorful character that he has teamed up with. There is a bit of romance involving Boyd and his wife which adds some depth  to the character. Boyd’s wife is horrified when she learns the truth and Boyd has convinced himself that he did it all for her. We know better, Speedman’s performance tells us differently.

This film has its flaws. Clearly the budget is low, but it does its best not to show it. The story telling is quite vignetted as it jumps from scene to scene in place and time, leaving the viewer to fill in some of the gaps. I don’t necessarily mind that approach because it can be fun to use observation to place the cinematic pieces together, in order to appreciate the overall story. This is often achieved upon reflection.  However, this technique runs the risk of serving the plot at the expense of character development. This can often leave me with a feeling of “why should I care about what happens to these people, with whom I would never spend time in real life.” However, superficial character development is this film’s biggest flaw. So at times it was like a well told history lesson. I would have preferred more time spent on understanding the motivating factors that drew Boyd to a life of crime. The movie concluded with a fade to black and a few sentences that summed up what was left of the saga of Edwin Boyd. I would have liked to have seen that summation as part of the story presented dramatically on screen, because I think that would have made for a more interesting film.

I enjoyed all the performances, but especially those of Speedman and Durand. It was fun to see a Canadian story that was completely new to me, told in an entertaining fashion. I hadn’t given much thought to it before, but I now realize that the cult of celebrity is not a new thing; it is just dialed up to 11 in this digital information age.

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