It takes a certain level of skill and audacity to rob one bank let alone 59 as “The Flying Bandit” did in the 1980s. The stuff of legend, Allan Ungar’s latest film Bandit explores how one of Canada’s most notorious thieves pulled off his brazen crimes and avoided police in the process.
American career criminal, Gilbert Galvan Jr (Josh Duhamel) flirted with the straight and narrow path after he escaped a US minimum security prison in Michigan and fled to Canada. Assuming the identity of Robert Whiteman, which he bought off a homeless man, he worked minimum wage jobs while attempting to keep a low profile. Galvan even found love with a social worker, Andrea (Elisha Cuthbert), who ran the church hostel where he was staying. Of course, the long arm of the law was never too far behind.
Fearing that police might start searching for him in Ottawa, and not wanting to reveal his identity to Andrea, Galvan took off to Vancouver under the guise of exploring a job opportunity. It was on the Canadian West Coast, where he got the crazy idea to don a disguise and rob a bank. Despite a few blunders along the way, his first attempt was a success and led him down a lucrative path of fast money and even faster upward social mobility.
Hitting banks all over the country and being dubbed “The Flying Bandit” in the media in the process, Galvan turned to local gangster Tommy Kay (Mel Gibson) to help launder all the money he was amassing. While the deal they struck was beneficial for both parties, associating with Kay unexpectedly put Galvan on the radar of a detective, John Snydes (Nestor Carbonell), who was determined to arrest the gangster at all costs.
While the cat and mouse elements between Galvan and Snydes ramp up in the latter half of the film, the real draw for viewers is Duhamel’s turn as the famed bank robber. Duhamel is fantastic as he oozes charisma even when playing up the more comedic beats in the film. A perfect example of this comes when Galvan not only discovers the benefits of frequent flyer miles, but also that carry-on luggage is not checked by security. Even when his character is breaking the fourth wall, a technique that is used way too often in the film, Duhamel ensures one is always engaged in the next outlandish bank job Galvan will pull off next.
Never getting overshadowed by the comedic absurdity of crimes his character is committing, Duhamel effortlessly glides back and forth from the amusing moments to the more dramatic scenes found in his interactions with Cuthbert’s Andrea. While Canadian filmmaker Ungar has established himself with star-driven action films like Gridlock, which coincidentally featured Gibson’s Lethal Weapon co-star Danny Glover, and Tapped Out, he proves that he is more than capable of handling drama as well. Ungar conveys a genuine love for this central character and ensures that Galvan always feels like a real person instead of a caricature.
Bandit portrays Galvan as a skilled artist whose canvas just happened to be one of crime. He may rob banks for a living, but he always strived to ensure no actual harm came to any of the bank employees or patrons.
Although this sense of humanity allows the film to present Galvan in a favourable and misunderstood light, the film stumbles when focusing on its supporting characters. Andrea is only slightly elevated above simply love interest role and the rest of the characters feel like an afterthought for most of the film. This is especially evident when observing how one-note an individual like Syndes is. Disappearing for odd stretches, one never gets to know the characters well-enough to care if he ever catches Galvan and Kay.
To a lesser extend the same can be said about the arc between Galvan and loan shark Kay. The mutual appreciation they have for each other, always teetering between genuine friendship and that of the transactional variety, is never fleshed out enough to reach its potential.
While the subplots do not land as well as they could have, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Propelled by a great performance by Duhamel, Bandit is an entertaining film worth stealing some time for.