[Screen It]


(2020) (Josh Hartnett, Antoine-Olivier Pilon) (R)

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Drama: An investigative journalist tries to expose the framing of a common junkie as a drug kingpin, all of which has led that man to be imprisoned in a Thai prison.

Victor Malarek (JOSH HARTNETT) is an investigative journalist working for Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper and has a new baby with his wife, Anna (AMANDA CREW). He's currently trying to uncover what looks like shady dealings between Canada's federal police and their counterparts in Thailand regarding one Daniel Léger (ANTOINE-OLIVIER PILON).

He's a small-time junkie who Victor believes was framed as some sort of drug kingpin. As Victor continues with his investigation and runs into interference from Canadian officials the story rewinds to when Daniel -- now clean from his dope addiction for six months -- arrives in a new town only to run into charter boat captain Glen Picker (JIM GAFFIGAN) who's also a drug dealer and gets Daniel hooked again.

But he also gives Daniel a job working on the boat and picking up drugs for clients including from pawnshop owner Mary (ROSE-MARIE PERREAULT). Unbeknownst to them, however, Picker is also an informant for Sgt. Frank Cooper (STEPHEN McHATTIE) of the Federal Police's narcotics division.

Having been passed over for a promotion, he wants a big score and due to confusion with Daniel's name, he and his work partner, Moore (MARK CAMACHO), believe the junkie is a drug kingpin of some sort. Eventually enlisting the aid of police cadet Al Cooper (COREY LIPMAN), they coerce Daniel into traveling to Thailand to entrap him in a big drug deal, all of which eventually draws Victor into his story.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

It's a sad statement of our current state of affairs in the U.S. (and increasingly in other parts of the world) that many people have backed up into their respective corners of beliefs and look at things through a black and white, I'm right and you're wrong prism.

Accordingly, a lot of people believe police are either saints or brutal racists, journalists are fake media or infallible champions of the truth, and drug addicts are worthless scum or victims of society. The truth is always somewhere in the gray area in between, but there's no denying there are still problems needing to be fixed in all of those matters just mentioned, both here in America as well as abroad.

Case in point are movies featuring social justice do-gooders who work to free innocent (and usually poor) people who've been convicted of and imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit. The fact that so many such flicks exist -- when based on true stories -- is proof the system is still broken.

The latest such offering is "Most Wanted" (a.k.a. "Target Number One" in some markets), a drama based on what happened to Alain Olivier, a Canadian drug addict who was set up by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in an espionage plot and ended up serving eight years in a Thai prison. Thanks to the work of Canadian journalist Victor Malarek, Olivier's nightmare, and the corruption that induced that was finally exposed.

As they used to say on Dragnet "Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." And thus Olivier has been changed to Daniel Leger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), the government entity has been renamed to simply the Canadian Federal Police, and facts related to the alleged crime and charges have been altered for dramatic effect.

None of which, of course, will mean a hill of beans to anyone not familiar with the real story, but there's no denying that even with the changes the film suffers a bit from the familiarity of its plot elements due to scores of similar films that have covered similar travesties of justice.

Here, Malarek retains his real-life name and is played with palpable urgency by Josh Hartnett as a Globe and Mail investigative journalist who smells something fishy with a joint Canadian-Thai drug bust operation and sets out to get to the bottom of that, much to the concern of his wife (Amanda Crew), especially with them having a newborn.

As he contends with running into interference from multiple angles, writer/director Daniel Roby has the plotline repeatedly return to the past when Leger, fresh off a multiple-week work stint and clean from heroin for the past six months, runs into a drug dealer (Jim Gaffigan, convincingly playing against his usual goofy, stand-up comedian persona) and gets hooked again.

Unbeknownst to him, Gaffigan's character is an informant for the aforementioned CFP and with Sgt. Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie) needing to prove his worth after being passed over for a promotion, the drug dealer gives him Leger as a drug kingpin. They just need to catch him in the act and what better place than Thailand.

The back and forth storytelling works to the film's advantage, as do the strong lead performances by Pilon and Hartnett, while the work of the supporting cast is solid across the board. Tech credits are likewise good, although I would have preferred a bit less of the shaky, handheld camerawork that's fairly prevalent early on.

In the end, it's all done well, with the only real issue being that we've seen this sort of tale told so many times that we've become somewhat numb to the injustice and thus aren't as outraged and moved as probably would have occurred had this been the first such offering of its type. And there's no grey middle ground on that also being a troubling indictment of our times. "Most Wanted" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 22, 2020 / Posted July 24, 2020

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