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“Most Wanted” Is Only Mostly A Compelling Crime Thriller

There’s a frustrating element to watching a film that is only partly effective. Certain elements draw you in, while others push you away. Sometimes that can be a content issue, but in the case of Most Wanted, it’s more just in how the story is being told. The dramatic elements, the crime elements, the thriller elements, they’re all there. They just never get the full attention that they deserve. In telling a split narrative, filmmaker Daniel Roby doesn’t give any element enough focus, presenting them as pieces, which prevents them from landing with their intended impact. Undoubtedly, the intentions here were good, but that alone does not a good bit of cinema make, sadly.

The movie is a crime drama/thriller, based on a true story. Told in fragments, we follow three plot strands that eventually come together. For ex heroin junkie Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), staying clean is hard, but staying out of trouble is even harder. For Globe and Mail investigative journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), he’s not able to just do the simple stories, needing to dive deep into the how and the why of an event. When a friend introduces Daniel to Picker (Jim Gaffigan) both go out the window, eventually resulting in his involvement in a drug deal gone wrong, due in no small part because of Picker working for cops like Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie) and trying desperately to set someone up. Ultimately, this results in Daniel getting thrown into a prison in Thailand and given a 100-year sentence after being forced to plead guilty, since he faced death, otherwise. Something about this strikes Victor as unusual, so at the same time as Daniel is trying to survive his Bangkok incarceration, Victor starts to go after the shady undercover cops responsible for first wrongly accusing Daniel in the first place. The end result is a years long crusade for justice that also remains a blotch on the record of Canadian law enforcement. Roby writes and directs, with cinematography by Ronald Plante, while Jorane provides the score. Supporting players include Amanda Crew, J.C. MacKenzie, Don McKellar, Rose-Marie Perreault, and more.

At times, there’s a compelling tale being told. At other points, the indifferent acting on display, give or take Jim Gaffigan’s enthusiastically vulgar turn, holds things back. Josh Hartnett and Antoine Olivier Pilon just don’t have the gravitas to rope you in and keep you interested. This combines with filmmaker Daniel Roby’s hit or miss storytelling to prevent a full investment. It’s frustrating, too, since the third act does come alive, story wise. The entire first half, however, is on the rough side, and it’s something that the film never fully recovers from.

Most Wanted is the sort of flick that’s almost dying to be redone. With another polish, a slightly different cast, and better pacing, Roby and company would have really had something here. To be sure, the miscarriage of justice is horrifying and should be a warning sign about overzealous law enforcement. That being said, while a tragedy is being depicted in the movie, it’s not being depicted in a manner that’s quite engaging enough to warrant a recommendation.

Now playing, Most Wanted is a decent film that’s mostly undone by a lack of anything truly concrete to grab on to. If it had better acting, or a tighter pace, or even a sense of style, it might have been pushed over the edge. As it stands, instead we’re left with something that disappoints because of a sense that something better was achievable. Alas.

Most Wanted is available on VOD now.

(Photos courtesy of Saban Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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