Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 16, 2020)
Related to a true story, 2020’s Most Wanted takes us back to 1989. In that era, we meet Canadian Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a former heroin addict.
Though he kicked the habit himself, Daniel continues to associate with users, and he finds himself in a drug deal gone wrong. How wrong? 100 years in a Thai prison wrong.
While Daniel attempts to cope with this situation, his circumstances reach Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett). When Victor investigates, he finds enough corruption that he takes on the case and tries to use his work to free Daniel.
In the annals of the most misleading titles and cover art, we must consider Most Wanted as a contender. The title makes this sound like an outlaw movie, and the image of Hartnett as sunglasses-wearing tough guy adds to that impression.
Seriously – who goes into a movie called Most Wanted and expects a period drama about the drug trade and journalism? Not many, one assumes.
If I ignore this bait and switch, I find an inconsistent drama but not a bad one. Despite ups and downs, Wanted manages an intriguing tale.
The cast helps sell the material. Hartnett proves effective as the persistent journalist, partly because he seems happy to embrace the character’s prickly side. Hartnett doesn’t seem to feel a need for the audience to like him, and that helps allow his work to succeed.
Of the whole cast, though, Jim Gaffigan fares best as a manipulative drug dealer. When I reviewed American Dreamer, I noted that Gaffigan gave off a Philip Seymour Hoffman vibe, and that continues to seem the case here.
Don’t interpret that to imply Gaffigan comes across as a Hoffman wannabe, though, as he makes his own name for himself. He creates a character who feels affable, slippery and loathsome all at once, and he provides the movie’s most compelling moments.
Though our nominal lead, Daniel ends up as the least interesting character, and Pilon can’tdo much to elevate the role. Not that he offers a bad performance, but he seems a bit overwhelmed in a cast with veterans like Hartnett, Gaffigan and Stephen McHattie.
Despite the implication of my synopsis, note that Wanted progresses in a non-linear manner. That means it alternates scenes of what leads Daniel to prison with shots of his time there and Victor’s investigation.
Initially this seems a bit confusing, mainly because it’s not immediately obvious that the story Victor pursues relates to Daniel. However, the dots connect before too long, and the non-linear format means the movie avoids too much triteness.
Face it: Wanted easily could go down a pretty cliché path, and indeed, it does embrace some genre conventions. Still, the way it develops the story ensures it avoids too many of these pitfalls.
Wanted also indicts North American law enforcement more than anticipated. I figured this would be the “hapless North American overly punished by overly severe foreign systems” but instead, we see how Canadian authorities manipulated the situation so they could get a phony “big score”.
That twist works, as it deviates from the predicted path. Like the rest, it takes a while for this scenario to become clear, but once it does, it adds impact to the tale.
My only complaint stems from the possibility that Wanted bites off a bit more than it can chew. With essentially three competing stories, it can find too little space to fully invest in all of them.
Still, Wanted works pretty well overall. It creates a fairly engaging mix of drama and social commentary that keeps us with it.