Most Wanted Review: Hartnett and Pilon are knockouts in this new crime thriller about corruption in Canada
Tackling the true story of a Canadian drug junkie being from Quebec being the pawn in an drug trafficking plot for government officials and spending years in prison in Thailand, writer/director Daniel Roby crafts together an fast-paced and complex story with his latest film Most Wanted.
The film tells the dual story of Daniel Leger (Antoine Oliver Pilon), a Canadian junkie who ends up working for an unpredictable government informant named Picker (Jim Gaffigan), and Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), a determined investigative reporter. As Leger works for Picker, he unknowingly ends up being the perfect pawn for a shady government agent to pin as a criminal drug kingpin in order to make his department look good and cover their mistakes. Catching wind of Leger’s eventual imprisonment, Victor sees this as an opportunity to not only help his career, but also uncover the deep corruption taking place within the Canadian government and ends up finding the attention of people that could put his life in jeopardy.
One of the main aspects that makes Most Wanted unique as a crime-thriller is how Roby tells the events that lead up to Leger’s arrest and Victor’s investigation afterwards concurrently. Even though its obvious that these two things are connected and who the “prisoner” that Victor is trying to interview is, there’s something about seeing these events be interwoven that’s very engaging. It helps weave together the very complex story with a few too many moving parts and fleshes out the details of what were seeing with Victor’s investigation. It’s great storytelling that also elevates the film past some of its familiar crime thriller beats and the way that Roby also focuses on more pivotal dialogue over non-stop action is great. It works because the characters and performances instantly have you hooked, and it makes the moments where the action kicks in more sudden and meaningful.
Having this film’s story be based around actual government corruption that took place within Canada during the late 1980s also gives it a historical backbone that makes it an even more interesting watch. I can’t really think of the last time I remember hearing about crime thriller touching on corruption in Canada and it was something about the film that piqued my interest – especially with the government agents trying to cover their mistakes. It’s one of those corruption stories about “filling quotas” and looking good to the public that never seem to get old and the performance from Stephen McHattie embodies the desperation, corruption, and uncaring nature that causes tragedies like Leger’s to occur.
There’s also no doubt that Most Wanted’s greatest strengths is the excellent lead performances from Hartnett and Pilon. Hartnett was lowkey one of the big reasons that drove me to watching Most Wanted because it’s rare to see him anymore and he doesn’t disappoint here. He brings this great energy to the film as Victor as he really embodies and exudes his hunger for the truth regardless the hassle and harassment it might bring to him and those around him. The opening for him perfectly displays the kind of character he is while also giving us a really fun car chase sequence that’s lively and shows the consequences of Victor’s craving to poke the bears he surrounds himself with. Even his interactions with high-ranking officials and his knowledge of the political game show how strong of a player he is and how quickly he can think on his feet.
His pokes at high-powered people also put his own life and the safety of his wife Anna (Amanda Crew) and their new daughter in total jeopardy. It adds a whole other layer to his character and his arc in finally putting them first over finding the truth ends up being incredibly impactful and heartwarming because of how strong Hartnett is here. I’d even say that this is one of the best performances he’s had in his career and it’s like he’s let off the leash to bring Victor’s determined, unrelenting, and unique charming personality to life.
Pilon is just as great as he delivers a performance that makes you care for Leger and shows his resourcefulness that’s equal to Victor’s. While his youthful naivety is clear as he takes advantage of Picker’s “kindness” and becomes a clear target after he puts himself in a bad position when he wastes some of Picker’s supplies for his own fun, Pilon creates a balance of Leger’s good and bad qualities. In some ways, Victor nails what Leger is – he’s generally bad in that he’s a junkie but doesn’t warrant the kind of criminal record he was pinned for. Pilon generally makes Leger’s story tragic in how he ends up just being a pawn and there’re even moments where you can see that he realizes this and even tries to escape, but ultimately can’t do anything about it. Ultimately, he is just caught up in federal agents trying to cover their mistakes, but Pilon never makes him a lost cause as we see his resourcefulness create strong ties in the Thai prison and his strong willed fight cause a major change in him that creates a very satisfying arc for him as well.
Most Wanted may seem like your standard corruption crime thriller on the surface, but the storytelling from Roby and knockout performances from Hartnett and Pilon make it an incredibly enticing watch that keeps you on the edge of your seat and hooked on every scene.