Synopsis – In 1989, a Canadian journalist investigates the circumstances surrounding the suspicious arrest of a heroin addict imprisoned in a Thai jail.
My Take – If the popularity of films like Spotlight and All the President’s Men, says something, it is that most of us love watching dramas based around investigative journalism, were our set of protagonists piece by piece put together a conspiracy puzzle which ends up revealing some form of corruption activity covered by authorities, an activity which more often than not also ends up affecting an innocent or two.
But the first thing that surprised me about this Canadian production that it is based on a true story which shows that even the famously polite Canadian’s are capable of some fairly corrupt streak. This mostly unheard true story recounts a gross injustice that was carried out in the late 1980s when the Canadian Security Intelligence Service targeted Alain Olivier, a junkie with no previous criminal record, by luring him to Thailand and take the fall for a failed undercover sting for which he was sentenced to death by hanging and later pleaded for a 100 year jail time in a Thai prison.
While the film may not bring anything new to the table and is not as snappy and as relevant as it wants to be, but does well with what it sets out to do, hence resulting in a solid experience. And for that writer/director Daniel Roby deserves credit for mounting this handsomely shot and tightly crafted little thriller that keeps you occupied for 135 minutes.
Unfolding in non-linear manner, the story set in 1980s follows three arcs, the first one focuses on Daniel Leger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a young man who following six months of sobriety and a month of honest work, unfortunately gets backs into his old habits once he starts working for the wildly unpredictable Picker (Jim Gaffigan), a drug dealer. However what the naively trusting Daniel doesn’t know that Picker also happens to be a star informant working for Agent Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie) and the Canadian Federal Police.
And with Frank desperately seeks a huge scoop after having passed over for a promotion once again, he takes Picker’s word on delivering one of the top most drug runners on the scene with connections to Thailand, and sets up a costly undercover operation which takes him team and Daniel to Thailand.
Elsewhere, Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), an investigative journalist working from the Globe & Mail begins to raise questions when he finds out about a Canadian citizen rotting in one of Thailand’s worst prisons. Through Malarek’s investigation and his interview with Daniel, we learn more and more about the events leading up to his Thailand arrest from his perspective and that of those who set him up and then tried to cover it up.
The story-line with Malarek occurs slightly later chronologically as the journalist questions the case’s sketchy details. He asks rosy questions of the feds and riles up Thai officials. His nose, reared on seasoned, on-the-ground, investigative journalism knows when an absence of facts tells a different story. The dual threads gradually align as Malarek pieces the case together.
The interweaving narrative and interconnected stories may be lofty, but the way they pull together is nothing short of remarkable as writer-director Daniel Roby provides great entertainment while also doing justice to the story it tells. As he gently reveals the connections without complicating the drama. The quick and precise editing by Yvann Thibaudeau lets the complementary narratives unfold like a Rubik’s Cube coming together with each share of the film ratcheting up the tension as characters collide.
The view of life inside a Thai prison is far more eye-opening than a reporter going from source to source, and it helps that Pilon is such an engaging and sympathetic actor, using his wiry frame and thoughtful persona to make Daniel inherently interesting.
Yes, he’s a victim of a conspiracy that he could never have seen coming, but he also is easily led when he thinks someone is lending a helping hand. His story line takes some time to intersect with that of Victor’s, and their first sit-down interview at the prison is so riveting and loaded with unspoken tension that it’s easily the best scene in the film, which jumps around in time a bit to reveal exactly how and why Daniel was set up.
But much of the stuff with the investigation and dirty police feels wildly familiar to the point where it never really takes hold as a solid piece of drama. There’s no doubting that director Daniel Roby has a solid eye for storytelling as the film shows it and certainly feels in time with the period but as we get hit with the facts of the story from every possible angle, you can’t help but shake the feeling that it all just needed to be a little snappier from start to finish.
While you can appreciate the attention to detail that went in to trying to capture the mood of the story and the structure which kept us jumping from story to story, it never felt like it had stakes or any kind of measurable drama to it all until the very end.
Nevertheless, the film finds two solid leads in Josh Hartnett and Antoine Olivier Pilon. Hartnett stuns as reporter Victor Malarek, ensuring he completely sheds his former teen heartthrob image to turn in a layered, affecting performance as a devil-may-care, fearless investigator willing to fight for the truth. Similarly, Pilon gives a convincing, sympathetic portrayal of a man in an endlessly precarious situation as the jailed heroin addict.
The final of the three-pronged main characters is that of the grizzled, battle-weary FBI agent played by Stephen McHattie, who once again offers a chilling performance. But the scariest transformation, though, comes from comedian Jim Gaffigan, who transforms into a slimy, dangerous drug dealer. One wonders where he’s been hiding all this dramatic heft this whole time. The rest of the supporting cast that includes, Cory Lipman, Don McKellar and J. C. MacKenzie also do well, however, Amanda Crew is largely wasted. On the whole, ‘Most Wanted’ is a crafty crime thriller that offers familiar but engaging entertainment.
Directed – Daniel Roby
Rated – R
Run Time – 135 minutes