It is a sunless dawn on the outskirts of Montreal. On the banks of the St. Lawrence River, a group of sullen men hurriedly pull three corpses from the back of a van. The bodies, wrapped in gore-stained sleeping bags and attached by chains to cinder blocks, hit the dark water in a cloud of red spray. That grim sequence opens And Then You Die, a two-hour CBC production billed as the first EnglishCanadian gangster movie. The program is studded with harsh—and stylish-images of terror. In an elegant restaurant, a murdered Mafia kingpin slumps against a white marble statuette, drenching it with his blood. The camera careens dizzyingly inside a car where a father and his son crouch beneath a hail of bullets. But writers Wayne Grigsby and Alun Hibbert have failed to create characters to match the intensity of the visuals. Although their tale is based on real events, it reveals little about the hearts and minds of people who practise brutality for a living.
Eddie Griffin (Kenneth Welsh) is such a man. The leader of a small gang of Irish-Canadian criminals, Griffin is a workaholic, trading in drugs and armaments as if he were a shrewd legitimate shipping tycoon. His wife, Liz (Maggie Huculak), complains that he is never home. On the rare occasions when Eddie returns to their comfort-
able suburban house, he lavishes attention on his little boy, Danny. But Eddie’s life starts to fall apart as fellow criminals and the law close in on him. When a godfather of the Canadian underworld—his biggest customer—is murdered, Eddie shops around for a new Mafia alliance. But he makes the mistake of refusing a business proposition from Prego (George Bloomfield), another leading crime figure. Meanwhile, police detective James McGrath (R.H. Thomson) begins to stalk Eddie—and proves to be, in his way, as ruthless as his prey.
The tension builds as the criminal camps feud, Eddie hires a hit man to wipe out his adversaries and McGrath tightens his vise. Director Francis Mankiewicz (Les Bons Desbarras) has given the drama staccato pacing, and there is little slack separating each short, danger-filled manoeuvre from the next. Most of the performances are strong: Thomson seems to delight in playing the driven McGrath, and Huculak sensitively portrays Eddie’s beleaguered wife. But the central character, Eddie, lacks flesh and blood. Welsh, best known in recent years for his role as the child molester in Loyalties, seems uncertain of how to handle his half-baked role—and remains unconvincing as a thug. Little more than a sophisticated cartoon about gangsters, And Then You Die portrays an underworld of shallow dimensions.
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