There is something so unique and special about Canadian films. I’m not talking about filmmakers or actors from Canada—we’re got plenty of those in Hollywood—or movies that are shot in Canadian cities, doubling as an American location. I’m talking about Canadian productions with actors you mostly only see in Canadian films or television series. You might not even be able to detect specific variations between them and American productions, but something always feels just a little bit different—maybe more honest, rougher around the edges in terms of emotional honesty, and usually more thoughtful. When I got a look at the cast list for Most Wanted, from writer/director Daniel Roby (A Breath Away) and saw names like Don McKellar (star of my favorite Canadian series “Twitch City”) and horror legend Stephen McHattie, my heart did a little dance. Hell, even the movie’s star, Josh Hartnett, is from Minnesota, and that’s close enough to Canada for me.
Based on a true Canadian story, Most Wanted is actually two stories, set in the late 1980s, that sporadically intersect. The more interesting one is about young junkie Daniel Leger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who is forced by his drug-dealing employer (a wild turn by Jim Gaffigan) to take part in an extremely dangerous deal that involves him going to Thailand, where of course, he’s caught. He’s sentenced to 100 years in a Thai prison, where he is regularly beaten and otherwise tormented. The entire reason he’s in jail at all is because of a sting operation set up by Canadian authorities who effectively set him up after mistaking him for someone with a shady criminal record (Daniel actually has no record). The task force is led by crooked cop Frank Cooper (McHattie), who has a bug up his ass because he’s been once again been passed up for a promotion and is looking to make a significant bust to prove he’s worthy of one. It’s a perfect storm of bad circumstances and deception that gets Daniel jailed, with seemingly no one on his side to help free him.
The other story is actually about the one person looking to help Daniel, although with an ulterior motive. Josh Hartnett plays reporter Victor Malarek, who writes in-depth investigative pieces for his Canadian paper and hosts his own TV news show, both of which he’s in danger of being fired from. Daniel’s story is essentially his last shot, but when the Canadian government gets wind of what he’s up to and that he’s attempting to discredit what they’re selling as the break-up of a major heroin ring, Victor’s outlets drop him. But he continues to investigate the story, while risking the safety of his wife Anna (a largely wasted Amanda Crew) and newborn child.
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 storyline 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 movie, 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. Plus, since we know how nightmarish Daniel’s experiences in prison truly are, it’s hard to feel bad for a reporter hitting roadblock after roadblock and think he’s got it tough. There are some standout supporting performances from the likes of McKellar as one of Victor’s only friends who helps him out, and J.C. MacKenzie as his editor at the paper, who wants to support him but doesn’t have the funds or backbone to do so. I honestly feel like I haven’t seen Josh Hartnett in anything in so long that this role reminded me that while there’s usually nothing technically bad about his work in most films, he also never gives me the impression that another actor couldn’t have done a better job. He’s fine in Most Wanted, but like the film itself, there’s really nothing special about it outside of its unique Canadian flare.
The film is available in select theaters and On Demand.
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