Sometimes it only takes one person to steal from 59 banks and net over $2 million (CAD).
This was the real case for Gilbert Galvan Jr., a convicted bank robber who came to Canada in search of the American Dream. Galvan, under the alias Robert Whiteman, found his fortune in different banks and jewellery stores across the 80s. A semi-automatic pistol would send a clear message to tellers over the counter, but Whiteman’s mannerisms, compliments and charms did most of the talking.
Whiteman moved like clockwork for the most repeated heists in Canadian history before his arrest by police in 1987. Dubbed as the second “Flying Bandit” after Ken Leishman, Galvan earned the moniker with his Air Canada points. The added flight incentives helped him keep moving across a spree in major Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and London (Ontario).
Bandit director Allan Ungar still remembers a few “magical” moments seeing one of Canada’s most prolific bank robbers come to life on the big screen. His latest crime biopic details Galvan’s rise and fall while putting Canada in the Hollywood spotlight. Bandit also marks Ungar’s third feature film as a director following Tapped Out (2014) and Gridlocked (2015). A fan film in 2018 would realize the vision for writing an Uncharted film, which starred Nathan Fillion as the iconic treasure hunter. Ungar’s own brand of quips, closely-followed cinematography and self-aware wit didn’t stop at Uncharted.
Played by Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Call of Duty: WWII, The Callisto Protocol) and co-starring Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon, Mad Max, Hacksaw Ridge), Gilbert Galvan’s life is accentuated through fake noses, cheap disguises and a glossary of quips. With an on-brand Canadian flair, his techniques also made Bandit an unusually rare crime film where nobody actually dies and people look happy to be robbed.
CGMagazine sat remotely with Bandit director Allan Ungar to learn about the film’s Canadian roots, Josh Duhamel’s roles-within-a-role and turning Georgia into home.
CGMagazine: In the decision to make Bandit, how did you know you were the perfect fit to make a movie like this?
Allan Ungar: Obviously, the Canadian identity was a big sell for me. I’ve been making a lot of movies here at home in Toronto, that didn’t really have that sense of home or my patriotism, if you will. And it’s so rare that we get to see films about Canada and about Canadian people set in Canada, in a sort of commercial narrative. So I was really excited by the opportunity to tell that Canadian story.
CGMagazine: The Bandit does go across Canada on a sweep of different heists as well as taking audiences to places like Toronto, London and Vancouver. Along the way as you were creating those pieces for the movie, did you learn anything new about Canada?
Allan Ungar: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think I learned anything new about Canada—only because we had to shoot in the States. So we weren’t actually shooting in Canada. And so we finished principal photography and then came to Ottawa for a few days last year. I’ll tell you what I learned. That on my grade 8 trip to Ottawa, I clearly had remembered nothing about Ottawa (laughs).
CGMagazine: Having filmed in the States, what was it kind of like having to turn parts of the U.S. into home?
Allan Ungar: It was a lot of going off memory and Google Street view (laughs). I had made this Dropbox even when I thought we were going to be making the film in Canada. I’m always sort of prepared, knowing sort of what the sets should look like and what we’re trying to replicate.
So thankfully, I had this Dropbox that I gave to my art team and my locations team in Georgia, and they were able to find me street corners that had certain architecture, anything that would sort of evoke the proper Canadian aesthetic from the 80s. And the funny thing is that a lot of people that worked on the movie have never actually been to Canada before. So here they were trying to recreate Canada. Even then it was pretty fun.
CGMagazine: In the movie, what were some of the things you wanted viewers to know about the Bandit? What were some boxes here that just had to be checked?
Allan Ungar: It’s a human story. I mean more than anything. It’s one of those things where if you look at the guy, obviously, he was doing things that were wrong, but he was conscientious of that and he just very badly sort of wanted to go straight and narrow, just didn’t know how didn’t have the skill to do it. At the end of the day, he kind of did it for love and in a cheesy way. That’s kind of what it was. I think it makes him super relatable.
Then that’s the thing that’s so great about the stories that—in 1986, Canada—anybody could have just picked up and tried to do this. It obviously was something that was easier to get away with then than it would be now. But I think the whole thing is really anchored in that humanity that Josh (Duhamel) brings to the character. And the real Gil at the end of the day was a very charming, friendly guy who never hurt anybody. Never wants to hurt anybody and just didn’t want to go about making money the kosher way.
CGMagazine: Early on in Bandit, there was a line where Gilbert says, “I never thought I’d come to Canada to find the American dream.” What do you think Bandit says about the Canadian dream?
Allan Ungar: Ah. It’s funny that a part of me wants to say that it was a bit easier to achieve the Canadian Dream compared to out in the States. Like, I don’t think that the Canadian dream or the American dream are all that different. I think everybody wants the same thing. Prosperity, success, health, wealth. Gilbert just had a much easier time doing it here in Canada.
CGMagazine: When you were learning more about this real life person, what was the most surprising thing about them, and how did you kind of bring that into Bandit?
Allan Ungar: I think the most surprising thing is how naturally good he was with people. Because he still found ways to go back and rob the same people over and over again. They weren’t even upset by it. They were kind of like, “oh it’s this guy again this is pretty funny.” Even when the testimonies kind of came out and the eyewitness accounts, all people would talk about is how great this guy was to converse with. Even when he was holding them up and robbing them. I just thought there was something about that charm. The way it was written in the script and the way we pitched it was if James Bond was robbing banks.
CGMagazine: Throughout Bandit, when Gilbert does go into these banks and has these somewhat “nice” robberies, he also evolves into a master of disguise showing up as all sorts of different people. What was it like directing Josh to basically play a role within a role?
Allan Ungar: It was funny, because he really, really took that to the next level and embodied those characteristics. What’s funny was, he would even stay in prosthetics and costume. Sometimes we go into like a bar down the street, people had no idea who he was. He was sort of just like leaning into it. It was fun. We had about 16 disguises in the film, then we had nicknames for each one.
My costume designer, Claire, menswear, makeup artists, we worked. I can’t tell you how hard and how long they worked alongside one another and myself to prep. Just to sort of nail these disguises. Then Josh would come in and sort of put a little salt and pepper on that. Shape and shift that into what these disguises actually came out to look like. But it was fun, because we just kind of wanted Josh to have the ability to show his range and his depth as an actor.
Each of these sorts of disguises were different personalities. So there was stuff that didn’t make it in the movie, obviously, but I think that there were a few disguises in there that Josh and I both had as favourites. We wanted to try to take him as far as we could. It was great. It was a lot of fun. He’s great with the improv and comedy.
CGMagazine: So what made Josh the right choice to play the Bandit?
Allan Ungar: The charm, the charisma, the heart that he brought to the character, and just the fact that both men and women love the guy. We couldn’t go anywhere in Georgia, without women and men coming up to him and being like, “I love you,” or “my mom loves you,” or “my sister loves you.” He’s just like the people’s person.
We sent him the script, his manager read the script and said, “this is very much his Catch Me If You Can,” which is how they sold it to Josh. When Josh read it, I think I got a phone call less than a week later from him. I was at a cottage on a raft and my phone was ringing, and I went to the dock and picked it up. Then that’s kind of how the whole journey started.
CGMagazine: When working with Josh to bring the Bandit to life, how are we able to take a figure like that and tap into that human side with Josh?
Allan Ungar: There were conversations very early on. I wanted to make sure him and Gilbert had the chance to talk. So that he could understand at least Gilbert’s frame of mind. To understand why he was doing what he was doing and ultimately sort of the importance of his relationship with Andrea. So I think very early on when Josh and Gilbert spoke, he got a really good sense of who Gilbert was first. Then Josh, Alicia and I talked about how, even though nobody wants to sell it this way—and nobody’s going advertise it as such—that the heart of the film, the crux of it is a romantic story, right?
It’s about a guy who falls in love with a woman and has to figure out how he’s going to make it work. And so the three of us really spent a lot of time together in prep, and during production, sort of talking through how to make it as dynamic and realistic as possible. So that by the 20-minute mark, you’re just like, “oh, I want these two to get together, and I want these two to stay together.” Hopefully, that’s what people will take away when they watch it.
CGMagazine: How did it feel free to go from a concept to seeing them in the same room?
Allan Ungar: It was magical. There’s always this inherent magic to what we do to these stories that we bring to life. When the camera’s rolling, you sort of just let Josh and Alicia do their thing. The funny thing is, they had kind of encountered one another before. They do have the same manager. So they’ve sort of been in the same circles, but they’ve never acted together before.
Alicia is the best. She’s married to a hockey player, right? So she’s kind of like one of the boys, and so she’s very chill. She’s very relaxed about her process. Josh can be a little goofy on set and as can I. So she kind of has no problem holding her own. I think that is sort of just built this camaraderie together they then brought onto the screen.
CGMagazine: Having obviously reached out to Gilbert about this, how do you think he would react if he saw Bandit?
Allan Ungar: So he saw the film for the very first time Wednesday in Los Angeles at the big red carpet premiere. So he was very, very excited about it. But he was actually there on set. If you look close enough, he’s actually in the movie. He’s in the background as a patron just having a beer. He would come to us in between takes and just say, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it. Oh, Mel (Gibson) looks like the real Tommy.”
We took lines from the book and lines that Ed Arnold and Robert Knuckle had actually sort of jotted down after their interviews with Gilbert from prison in the 80s and the 90s. So we tried to incorporate a lot of that as much as possible. I think Gilbert was seeing it come to life, which was a pretty big deal for him.
CGMagazine: Along that development, what kind of challenges did you come across in recreating his (Gilbert’s) life for the big screen?
Allan Ungar: You always have to take creative liberties. So there are certain things that have to be a little “Hollywood.” I would say the challenges were trying to fit the sheer amount of his journey and his life story into a two-hour film, because there was just so much, I mean, the first cut of the film was three hours long.
Even before we filmed, we had to cut out an entire backstory about him growing up in Los Angeles in the 50s, with a white mother and a Latino father, and how race relations affected him and how it left him without an identity. Which is why he kind of always felt like an outsider, and a loner and sort of shaping who he was. So I think that was the biggest challenge. There was just so much material to work from, and we just couldn’t incorporate all of it.
CGMagazine: Now that you’ve finished Bandit and shown it to a lot more people: thinking back from the very beginning to all the work that you have done to bring this to life, did you learn anything new about yourself in the process?
Allan Ungar: I learned that I was tougher than I thought because the film was supposed to be a 32-day movie in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. It ended up being a 21-day film in Southern Georgia. Just the constant sort of curveballs that were thrown at us on a day-to-day basis. You know, every movie is hard. Making a movie is always impossible. Getting a film done is a miracle every single time. But this one felt like it was harder than it needed to be, especially because of the Canadian and American disconnect. So I think I learned that I was a little bit tougher than I thought I was just to get through the trial by fire.
Bandit is currently out in theatres across North America under limited engagement. The movie is also available on VOD and streaming services.