I love a true crime drama that is arresting and sticks the landing yet unfolds smoothly and patiently. Most Wanted is such a film. Josh Hartnett still has his chops. The ascension of a once prominent actor (a comeback, if you will) can be a very fun experience. This is why that throughout the duration of Most Wanted, I was grinning so much. Hartnett dominates every scene he occupies, and he isn’t the only one either. Everyone shines here, as the story gives everyone plenty to do. This film enthralled me from the very beginning, spinning its silk around my eyes, trapping me in its execution and humanity. By the end, I couldn’t believe there has been such little buzz about this film. It is truly great.
A series of shots can tell a story by simply luring our eyes down the path. That is the style in which the director here, Daniel Roby, succeeds with. It isn’t so much the dialogue, but the pauses before the words are spoken. I’m reminded of works from Demme and Leone where the eyes speak to the audience, conveying the pain and joy of the characters effortlessly. Most Wanted is based on a true story. So, in many ways, Roby’s work is cut out for him. But where other directors might focus on the mechanics (the drugs, the money, the handcuffs), here we are dialed in on the story and the characters filling it. The pacing is perfect. Even at a runtime a little north of two hours, Most Wanted never feels like it's dragging.
In the late 1980s, Canada and Thailand had a relationship with narcotics that Canadian authorities were always two steps behind from stopping. The plot is actually two parallel stories that intersect and interweave at the right time. The first story involves young Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a junkie with tenuous parental relations. He is looking for money, work, and maybe someone to give him the occasional hug. He finds solace in working for a hot-tempered heroin middle man (in an explosive turn from Jim Gaffigan). Through this relationship, Daniel is manipulated into setting up a huge trade between customers in North America from the supplier in Thailand. The catch? The customers are really Canadian detectives, desperate to put some points up on the scoreboard in a game they are otherwise losing. I won’t give all details away. As with nearly all tragedies, the hero gets more than he deserves and Léger finds himself the fall guy serving a 100-year sentence in Thailand for his crimes. The second story follows Josh Hartnett playing the real life Victor Malarek, a surly and aggressive journalist. “Anyone ever told you that you’re a prick?,” a character asks. “Yes, most people call me Victor though.” Malarek puts all he has on the line (including his family and marriage) to bring Léger’s story out and achieve justice. This film unfolds like a thread being pulled off a piñata, eventually spilling out, never to be put back together again. Between the tight writing, clever direction, and dynamic performances, I was invested the entire time.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
There are many parts of Hartnett’s performance that took me by surprise. To say I was impressed would be an unfair statement, as I always found Hartnett to be an actor with a talent usually above the projects he takes. That talent is fully on display here, and it is an absolute joy; his maturation of an actor coupled with the material being no doubt responsible. Jim Gaffigan, in his supporting role, chews the scenery constantly. If anyone wants to take a course on how to effectively play the “wild-card,” they can consider Gaffigan’s performance here as their textbook. His dialogue shines, betraying conventional “bad guy” musings. Pilon’s embodiment of Léger gives signs that his acting stock is about to rise. He works in concert with Roby’s direction, allowing his eyes to broadcast his pain and torment succinctly. The supporting cast of Léger’s girlfriend, the Canadian authorities, and Malvarek’s boss all carry their weight. Everyone is believable and honest in their performance. The dialogue works, and everyone’s acting works even better.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
"... a true crime drama that is arresting and sticks the landing..."
This is a crime drama that has little to no need for grand effects. But what it does well is put the audience where it needs to be. Despite the occasional make-up reflecting wounds from a fight, what is truly entrancing is the locations we see. We get dropped into Thailand, its heat, and its claustrophobic prison. We are treated to beautiful views of Canada, with shimmering lakes and sweeping mountain vistas. This film was shot gorgeously.
Most Wanted (2020) | VOD
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The music and sound is serviceable and simple. The score that opens the film also closes it, providing a sense of tone and finality. There are great uses of J and L cuts that tie into the sharp paced direction of the action. The foley mix blends the gritty reality with the airy atmosphere rounding out the various set pieces.
I left Most Wanted feeling satisfied and entertained. I am hopeful this film will find its audience. There is a lot to be praised here. Hartnett gives us an award-worthy performance; I surely hope he is met with such recognition. Every facet of this crime drama fills the requirements for coveted cinematic superlatives. It’s gritty without being melodramatic. Most Wanted deftly walks the fine line between a grounded true crime serial and outlandish noir escapade. It straddles this territory through Roby’s sharp focus and commitment from the gifted cast. There are no moral platitudes here rebuffing drug addiction or dirty cops. We’ve seen those enough anyway. We see real people here, and that makes Most Wanted score a direct hit.