By Richard Roeper
The powerful and well-acted true-crime story of a small-time drug dealer in deep trouble is told with multiple timelines that overcomplicate the narrative.
What a mess.
That applies to the editing techniques employed in writer-director Daniel Roby’s enthralling but needlessly overcomplicated true-crime thriller “Most Wanted” — and it applies even more so to the gigantic mess made by Canadian law enforcement officials who were so desperate for a splashy bust they devoted an insane amount of time and resources to busting a small-time addict and drug dealer who wound up facing a life sentence in a Thai prison.
Inspired by true events but filled with fictional and quite theatrical touches, the generically titled “Most Wanted” is set in the late 1980s and travels in two timelines, one involving Josh Hartnett’s star investigative journalist Victor Malarek (an accomplished real-life reporter), and flashback sequences centering on Daniel Leger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a 25-year-old addict living on the fringes of society and supporting his habit with minor crimes and drug deals. Malerek risks his career and even sees his family threatened over his dogged efforts to help Leger avoid spending the rest of his life in prison in Thailand on a conviction that is problematic to say the least.
As we bounce back between the two stories, the timeline gets lost in the weeds — especially when Victor starts appearing in the flashback sequences and meeting with Daniel in prison in an effort to expose the injustices inflicted upon Daniel. This powerful and well-acted story might have been much more effective if told in a strictly linear fashion.
But the editing room is closed, so here we go. Hartnett has the long-haired, swashbuckling, talented but temperamental journalist thing down pat, as Victor tirelessly works his sources, moonlights on a TV magazine show, puts in 12-hour days and gets into spats with his editor, who is growing tired of Victor’s antics but nonetheless agrees to bankroll a trip to Thailand, where Victor wants to get to the bottom of the case that landed the small-timer Daniel Leger in prison and painted as a major drug dealer.
Meanwhile, in the flashback sequences, Antoine Olivier Pilon turns in a brilliant performance as the troubled Daniel, who drifts around the Vancouver area in search of his next score. Daniel’s wandering leads him to a fishing boat manned by a guy named Glen (Jim Gaffigan), who’s a real piece of work — charming and funny one moment, waving a gun around and threatening lives the next. Glen is a drug dealer and a police informant, and he works both sides with equal deceit and manipulation. When veteran task force officer Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie) is passed over for a major promotion, he’s champing at the bit for a major bust, and he’s all too willing to believe Glen’s B.S. story about Daniel being a major cartel player who is about to make a huge heroin buy in Thailand. Glen manipulates the hapless Daniel into taking that trip, and before you can say “disaster in the making,” Cooper and his team are posing as drug buyers, Daniel is making promises he can’t keep, and everyone ends up in an alley in Thailand, and that’s when things REALLY go off the rails.
The character actor Stephen McHattie owns every scene he’s in as the world-weary Cooper, who is so blinded by ambition he can’t see that Daniel is clearly not a big-time player. Jim Gaffigan once again reminds us of his dramatic chops; his character of Glen would be worthy of a whole movie himself. “Most Wanted” runs a little long and a little ragged, but it’s still a solid adaptation of a mind-boggling, true-life story.