July 24, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Daniel Roby
Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada and Thailand, the dramatic film “Most Wanted” features a cast of white people and Asians representing the middle-class and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police target a young male heroin addict to set up a major drug sting in Thailand, but the botched sting lands the addict in a Thai prison, while a Canadian investigative journalist works to uncover police corruption and to help exonerate the prisoner.
Culture Audience: “Most Wanted” will appeal primarily to people who like heavy-handed dramas about international investigative journalism and the war on drugs.
“Most Wanted” (formerly titled “Target Number One”) is one of those “crusading journalist” movies “inspired by a true story” that gives the impression that it inflates the importance of the journalist, who just happens to be a paid consultant for the film in real life. Written and directed in a choppy and disjointed manner by Daniel Roby, “Most Wanted” is elevated by an emotionally impactful performance by Antoine Olivier Pilon. But the film is too long (a little more than two hours) and a paint-by-numbers drama about a journalist determined to uncover police corruption while trying to free a wrongly imprisoned inmate.
The movie’s several flashbacks are not shown in chronological order. People unfamiliar with the “true story” before seeing this film might be confused by all of these flashbacks. It’s mentioned in the film’s epilogue that there were several scenes that did not happen in real life but were in the film for dramatic purposes.
Essentially, the purpose of the movie is to make real-life Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (played by Josh Hartnett) look like a hero, while almost everyone he’s investigating is involved in enough sleazy and corrupt activities that the movie makes it look like they all deserved to be exposed by Victor. The movie has Victor jumping back and forth between the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, and later Thailand, for his investigations.
Victor is portrayed as a cocky workaholic who’s obsessed with being the first journalist to scoop everyone else on major investigative stories. The beginning of the movie takes place in 1989, when Victor worked as a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, and as a part-time TV journalist at a local Toronto station. Victor’s TV interviewing style is the epitome of “gotcha journalism,” since he loves to make his interview subjects squirm when he catches them off-guard with tough questions.
It’s also shown in the movie that Victor isn’t just doing these investigations for the greater good of humanity. He also wants fame and glory for his investigations. He loves being on camera. And he doesn’t just want to get news scoops. He expects his stories for the newspaper to be on the front page.
In the Globe and Mail newsroom, Victor argues with his long-suffering editor Arthur (played by JC MacKenzie), who tells this narcissistic journalist that Victor is on the verge of being fired because Victor hasn’t turned in an assignment in two months. Victor says that his investigations often take months to complete. Arthur tells Victor that he will be demoted to being a stringer/freelancer unless he delivers one article a week, and it doesn’t matter if the articles cover easy topics. Victor shouts back, “It’s not about money! It’s about my process!”
Being an abrasive and aggressive journalist has made Victor some enemies, so he’s used to getting death threats or other threats to his safety. However, something has changed in Victor’s life that has made him think twice about how his work might affect his personal life. His wife Anna (played by Amanda Crew) has recently given birth to their first child, a daughter. Like a lot of cliché wife roles in this kind of movie, Anna’s only purpose is to sit around looking worried and scold her husband when he lets his work obsessions negatively affect their life at home.
Meanwhile, a French Canadian recovering heroin addict in his mid-20s named Daniel Léger (played by Pilon) has just completed a work program in a British Columbia forest. He’s been paid by check, but he doesn’t have a bank account to cash it, and there are no banks or check-cashing places nearby. When he goes to a convenience store near the forest, Daniel buys some things, but he has no cash with him.
Daniel calls his mother to ask him to read his credit card number over the phone so that he can pay for the items. His mother refuses, and Daniel promises her that he’s not buying drugs. Daniel tells the store clerk that he’ll be right back to get some cash. Instead, Daniel steals the items and takes off on his motorcycle, with the clerk chasing after him to no avail.
Needless to say, Daniel falls right back into drug addiction after he was clean and sober for six months. One of his junkie friends named Michael (played by Frédéric Millaire Zouvi) introduces Daniel to another drug addict named Glen Picker (played by Jim Gaffigan), who has a houseboat that Glen uses for commercial fishing and tourist excursions. But how Glen really makes most of his money is through drug dealing and by being a confidential informant for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Seeing that Daniel is broke, homeless and desperate, Glen offers a grateful Daniel a job as his apprentice.
“Most Wanted” takes a long, convoluted time to get to the heart of the story, including an unnecessary detour that shows Daniel dating a pawn-shop clerk named Mary (played by Rose-Marie Perreault), in a drug-fueled relationship that ends up going nowhere. When Glen finds out that Daniel was arrested in Thailand for a drug deal, Glen foolishly believes Michael’s exaggeration that Daniel has major drug connections in Thailand. Michael even has a nickname for Daniel: Thailand Party Guy. Daniel doesn’t really correct this exaggerated perception of his clout in the drug-dealing world.
Glen passes along this information to an overzealous RCMP federal agent named Barry Cooper (played by Stephen McHattie), who’s close to retirement and eager to make one last major drug bust before he retires. Under Barry’s direction, Canada’s federal police pressure Daniel to set up a major drug deal in Thailand. Glen also has high expectations for Daniel to deliver a big drug deal to the feds.
In reality, Daniel only knows one small-time drug dealer in Thailand. Even though Daniel’s passport was confiscated due to his previous drug bust in Thailand, he’s able to get his passport returned to him, now that he’s secretly working with the Canadian government. Barry and other Canadian federal agents—including Barry’s ambitious son Al Cooper (played by Cory Lipman), who’s still a trainee—arrange to take a trip to Thailand with Daniel to set up what the feds think will be a major drug bust.
But things go horribly wrong. Daniel and some local Thai drug dealers are arrested by Thai police. During Daniel’s court hearings in Thailand, the Canadian government misleads the judge into thinking that Daniel is someone else with the same last name who has an arrest record in Canada. In reality, Daniel does not have an arrest record in Canada, but he’s been advised to plead guilty or else he will get the death penalty.
Daniel is sentenced to 100 years in prison. And somewhere in the jumbled way that this story is told in the movie, investigative journalist Victor takes it upon himself to try to get justice for Daniel. “Most Wanted” takes too long (about two-thirds of the film) showing how Daniel ended up wrongly imprisoned in Thailand. By the time the prison scenes are shown, they look rushed and shoved in as an after-thought.
And it’s too bad, because the best scenes in the movie are of Daniel’s plight in the Thai prison and what he does to survive. As Daniel, Pilon does a particularly credible performance in portraying the terror yet self-preservation that Daniel experiences while in the custody of Thai law enforcement.
Gaffigan, who usually has comedic roles, is also quite impressive in his performance as greedy confidential informant Glen, but this character is written in such a one-dimensional, sleazy way that Gaffigan doesn’t have much to do to go beyond this shallowness. Hartnett, who isn’t very remarkable in his role as Victor, has played this type of swaggering egomaniac before in other movies, so it’s not much of an acting stretch for him. And the Canadian federal agents are written as bumbling fools, so the actors in those roles are confined to playing these stereotypes.
“Most Wanted” would have been improved by cutting out a lot of the filler scenes leading up to Daniel’s imprisonment and giving audiences more insightful views of how he suffered and persevered while he spent years in a Thai prison. For example, there could have been more shown of the relationships that Daniel had inside the Thai prison system that helped him with his daunting task of appealing his case.
There’s only a hint of the type of allies that Daniel must have had in the prison, as exemplified by a Thai prisoner named Sin (played by Konglar Kanchanahoti), who helps Daniel with some important favors. “Most Wanted” didn’t have to be a “Midnight Express” type of movie, but the prison scenes are so late in the film, that it defeats the purpose of making this wrongful imprisonment the center of the story.
“Most Wanted” also erases anyone besides Victor who helped Daniel outside of the Thai prison system. For example, the movie doesn’t show any attorneys who would have been necessary for Daniel’s quest to get released from prison. The movie is so hell-bent on making Victor look like the only hero who can save Daniel, that it cheapens the story by giving an unrealistic portrayal of the legal process in Daniel’s case.
And what does the movie show Victor doing during Daniel’s prison ordeal? Visiting/interviewing Daniel once in the Thai prison and writing an article published in Canada about Daniel’s wrongful imprisonment. Victor also puts his wife and daughter into hiding in the home of a fellow journalist friend named Norm (played by Don McKellar), while Victor experiences more threats from government types who tell him to stop snooping around.
In one scene that will make people roll their eyes, Victor tells Emma that she has to be patient while “I save the world.” It’s too bad that it’s too late to save this movie from its hokey melodrama that clutters the story with unnecessary gibberish and leaves out a lot of important details.
Saban Films released “Most Wanted” on VOD on July 24, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “Most Wanted” on digital and Blu-ray on September 22, 2020.