Inspired by true events, Citizen Gangster follows the story of Edwin Alonzo Boyd and his descent into a life of crime as he robs banks, is thrown in jail and consequently forms a gang to aid him in his pursuit of a life with more meaning and adventure.
It is not a heavy film, but it is grim, its bleak atmosphere emphasised by countless shots of stark landscapes and the film’s monochrome colours. This austerity sets the tone for the post-war mundanity and emptiness that haunts the lives of Boyd, as well as Lenny Jackson, his fellow inmate who also fought in World War II – the pair bonding through a shared syndrome that Boyd’s wife refers to as combat fatigue.
The film is never pulled out of its dour grip but, on occasion, it becomes imbued with Boyd and the gang’s spirit as they rob banks and charm their victims, backed by upbeat tracks. The sweet family scenes also lend the film a warmer feel, but it inevitably plunges back into its own sense of gloom.
The plot wavers at times with certain events happening quite suddenly, without any proper exposition, as the director seems to be carried away with enthusiasm, much as the bank robbers on the screen. The era and location are never firmly established and you have to grasp at straws until you finally determine that the film is set in the late 1940s, in Canada. This is fairly ironic, as the film comes across as another tale told of the loss of the ideal of the American dream – but considering the concept’s globalisation, this is none too odd.