Release Date(s)2020 (September 22, 2020)
Studio(s)Saban Films (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: F
Set in the late 1980s and based on true events, Most Wanted (aka Target Number One) is the story of a Canadian law enforcement operation desperate for a headline-worthy drug bust, that devoted a tremendous amount of time and resources to its pursuit. It’s a tale of corruption, ambition, loyalty, and lack of oversight.
The film unfolds in two separate time periods, one involving Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), the other involving 25-year-old, small-time drug addict Daniel Leger (Antoine Olivier Pilon). Malarek finds a police public relations release about a recent bust that raises more questions than it answers. He suspects a cover-up, particularly after his initial investigation is stonewalled. The facts so far suggest that many answers can be found in Thailand among its police officials, so he requests airfare and expenses to pursue the story. His editor, who recognizes his talent and knack for ferreting out a good story, reluctantly bankrolls Malarek’s fact-finding trip to that country.
Interspersed with this narrative is the story of Leger, a recovering addict hanging around Vancouver, who’s been cut off by his parents and takes manual labor jobs to make ends meet. He meets Glen Picker (Jim Gaffigan), a drug dealer with a volatile personality who takes Daniel under his wing, giving him a job and a place to sleep on his tourist fishing boat. Daniel has no way of knowing that Glen is also a police informant. When veteran drug task force officer Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie) is passed over for promotion, he’s anxious for a big bust and believes Glen’s story that Daniel is about to make a huge heroin buy in Thailand. Glen manipulates Daniel into taking the trip, Cooper and his team pose as drug buyers, and everyone ends up in Thailand.
Writer/director Daniel Roby’s decision to structure the film by intertwining the stories of the reporter, the drug addict, and the cops creates suspense, and includes flashforwards and flashbacks that keep the viewer on his toes. Scenes in a Thai prison are reminiscent of Midnight Express, with a foreigner thrown into an unfamiliar world with severe penalties for drug offenses and little hope for assistance from outside the country. Malarek, who dedicates himself to helping a fellow Canadian in peril, is depicted as noble with a strong moral compass. He also has a chip on his shoulder about his journalistic “process” that costs him his job just as he and his wife have become parents, and his relentless investigation puts his family in serious danger, so he’s something of a tarnished hero.
Performances are very good. McHattie commands every scene he’s in. His Cooper looks worn down by a career in drug law enforcement and pressure from his superiors for a big bust, which motivates him to bend lots of rules.
Hartnett plays Malarek with little nuance or shading. Victor is tunnel-visioned when it comes to seeing that an entrapped, innocent man is not railroaded by law enforcement. Unlike Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men, Malarek is brash and self-righteous, and alienates both co-workers and those he interviews. With little diplomacy, he forges ahead, caring little about how he is perceived. His Victor is an idealized version of the crusading journalist.
Pilon is very good as Leger, a man caught in the middle of a dastardly plot. By his own admission, he’s a junkie, but we see how deviously he is being manipulated and he elicits empathy, particularly when he’s tossed into a Thai prison and must face violence and hopelessness. Young Pilon conveys naivety as he navigates dangerous waters. His street smarts enable him to stand up for himself even though he is physically slight.
The big surprise, acting wise, is Jim Gaffigan, who’s known for his stand-up comedy and folksy human interest pieces on CBS’ Sunday Morning. His scary, unpredictable Glen Picker switches from good ol’ boy happy to share a joint to a killer pointing a gun at the heads of others, providing a rich, complex portrayal. Picker is the linchpin that connects the unfolding stories.
The plot is engaging but feels like films we’ve seen before. The newsroom scenes are cliche-ridden, Hartnett’s Victor is more a caricature than a real person, and the eventual drawing together of the three stories, with some unforeseen surprises, doesn’t pack enough dramatic punch.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the Blu-ray of Most Wanted from Paramount is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The picture is sharp throughout, with no scratches, dirt specks, emulsion clouding, or other imperfections. The color palette has a slight yellowish hue in the Thai prison sequences. Lighting in the newspaper office is bright. Thai streets are narrow, crowded, and claustrophobic. When the prisoners stand in line shirtless, Pilon’s fair skin stands out from the darker complexions of his Thai inmates, setting him off visually. In the film’s few instances of physical violence, blood is prominent. The outdoor Canadian locations are generally grey and overcast. The outdoor Thai locations are sunlit, with extras wearing light clothing, suggesting a tropical climate. Period design, such as large wireless telephones, vintage automobiles, clothing, and men’s hairstyles, recreates the late 1980s.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio with optional subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish. Dialogue is clear throughout. Pilon speaks with a slight accent but can be understood perfectly. When Thai is spoken, English subtitles are shown. Because the Thai actors speak quickly, these subtitles flash by and it’s hard to read them completely. Gaffigan’s speech pattern takes on a Jekyll/Hyde manner. He’s cordial and laid back one minute, frighteningly intense the next. A fight scene in the prison is sweetened with sound effects (fists hitting bodies, grunts, bodies falling) to enhance drama. Jorane’s score, used primarily for transitional scenes, is more generic than distinctive and not especially memorable.
There are no bonus materials, but a Digital code is provided on a paper insert.
In its favor, Most Wanted is paced briskly and features spirited dialogue in Roby’s screenplay. Glen Picker’s character, in particular, is fully fleshed out and frighteningly real.
– Dennis Seuling