Gangs of Winnipeg: Shapeless Canadian Indie Strikes Out


Referring not to the old Burt Reynolds show nor the armored fighting vehicle so deck in Iraq, the title of Canadian indie Noam Gonick’s film alludes to a mute, pyromaniac First Nations teenager (Kyle Henry) adrift in the South Central–ish urban hellhole that is the north end of Winnipeg. The name is Canadian-ese for a prospective gangbanger, and this is not Guy Maddin’s whimsical-eccentric hometown; these gray, cold neighborhoods bear the deep cuts of decay and poverty as glumly as any Detroit development. Gonick, whose credits include the Maddin doc Waiting for Twilight, is deep into a post–John Singleton wallow here: Having run away from the Brokenhead rez, the boy strolls obliviously into the middle of a pissant drug war between the Indian Posse (a real gang, but here they number six or seven) and a leather-bound mob of Filipinos, led by a high-strung sociopath named Omar (although the actor, Ryan Black, is actually Ojibway, and Omar’s drunken mother appears to be Slavic). Toss in a gaggle of cackling streetwalkers, crack-sucking trannies, and a retarded street stooge, and you’ve got a paradigmatic afternoon of overwrought ghetto sermonizing, which is the same whether the self-annihilating underclass involved is black, Native, or an immigrant mix.

Shot by Ed Lachman, the movie delivers a wintry reality that cuts through your clothes, but Gonick’s story (co-written with David McIntosh) is unadventurous and shapeless, a matter hardly energized by the protagonist’s utter impassivity. Time and again, Stryker watches gang brawls, parties, and sex, and then sets something on fire. The dead-end social points Gonick is making are so blunt they’re hardly points at all anymore, but the galleon anchor that’s weighing down this well-intentioned homey is the amateur acting. With the exception of Black—who co-produced the film, and whose pro acting chops translate to soap opera–ish malevolence—Gonick’s entire cast sounds as if they are reading the phone book, even as they rap (in the native
tongue) and fuck-fuck-motherfucker-fuck in each other’s faces. The sense of scald
ing realism withers on the vine without any convincing line readings; Gonick has attested to weeks of rehearsals, but he needed more.