Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 23rd, 2020
Most Wanted (Daniel Roby, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Though director Daniel Roby’s cautionary tale about government overreach in Canada’s 1980s drug-war competition with the U.S. drags in places, is occasionally consumed by its own self-importance, and would have been better served keeping its original title – “Target Number One” – rather than its generic new one, Most Wanted, it still delivers a rousing enough thriller, sustained by solid performances. Based on the real-life story of Alain Olivier, whose name is here changed to Daniel Léger, the movie follows this sad-sack addict’s bumbling misadventures as he becomes a pawn in the schemes of others. The plot is so crazy that it makes for entertaining viewing, even when the mise-en-scène and script occasionally let us down. This couldn’t have really happened, right? Dramatic liberties aside, it most certainly did.
When we first encounter him, the Québécois Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon, 1:54) is a young junkie just out of rehab and a stint cutting trees into lumber when he meets the very sketchy “Picker” (Jim Gaffigan, Troop Zero), courtesy of a douchebag friend who takes all his money in the process. Picker just happens to be a small-time crook dreaming of the big time, with a day job running fishing cruises. Léger thinks his new acquaintance is nice when he offers him work and a place to stay; however, he’s actually setting him up as the fall guy in a harebrained scheme that would never work if the federal narcotics officers in British Columbia were not so desperate for a huge score to rival what their cousins south of the border are up to. Picker knows easy marks when he sees them, and soon Léger is off to Thailand, pursued by police who mistake him for a drug lord. Though it takes a while for all the pieces of the narrative puzzle to fall into place, since Roby jumps back and forth in time, the long and short of it is that Léger ends up in a Thai prison, first on death row and then for life. Picker, meanwhile, rides off into the sunset with a hefty finder’s fee, courtesy of his cop friends.
Our guide through this tragicomic mess is crusading journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett, Inherit the Viper) – who, unlike Olivier, gets to keep his real name (and who consulted on the film, so no wonder he’s the hero) – a man down on his luck and in need of a big scoop when he runs across the details of what happened to Léger/Olivier. Off he goes to Thailand, evading police obstruction and collusion and finally landing an interview with the poor kid. Once he discovers just how much his own country’s law enforcement screwed the pooch, he’s off and running, despite threats against himself and his family. It’s his efforts as investigator that drive much of the proceedings, as he fights to help Léger return home.
Beyond Pilon, Gaffigan and Hartnett, all three of whom do fine work, Stephen McHattie (Big Muddy) also shines as the misguided federal agent who leads his team astray. It’s mostly a cinematic man’s world, what women there are used to create problems that need to be solved or overcome, whether it be Malarek’s wife or newspaper boss, the one in danger and the other a danger (to Malarek’s career), but Rose-Marie Perreault (Fake Tattoos), as a pawn-shop-running love interest of Léger, has a few nice moments of her own. Given what little character development is allowed Mrs. Malarek (Amanda Crew, Chokeslam), beyond the usual spousal reprimand of a workaholic husband, it’s probably for the best that we focus on the guys, anyway, lest the marital scenes be even more painful. And the less said about the one-dimensionality of the Thai characters, the better. Fortunately, the bulk of the movie is filled with enough fascinating intrigue to keep us watching, amazed at the absurdity of it all. It’s a wild, if flawed, ride.