Daniel Roby’s film Most Wanted (2020) is a compelling drama about a Canadian journalist who risks it all to reveal the ineptitude of a police department that nearly results in the loss of a life of a mostly innocent man. The premise is one that feels like it could easily go too big or take itself too seriously, but Roby has a deft hand that makes the story have just the right amount of stakes to be invested. What helps the story is the tremendous performances by its cast – especially relative newcomer, Antoine Olivier Pilon.
Journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett) is a no-nonsense reporter for The Globe and Mail, while also working on a broadcast network. When his role at the paper is relegated to that of a freelancer, he sniffs out a scoop about a sting that landed a Canadian citizen in a Thai prison, potentially facing a death sentence. That man is Daniel Léger (Pilon), a heroin addict who finds himself under the employ of Picker (Jim Gaffigan). Picker initially seems like a savior to Daniel, but he is an informant for the police working with officer Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie). Picker is setting himself up for a big payday from the police by helping them bring down a big drug smuggler – but Daniel has no clue that’s what his role will be.
The two narratives are woven together in an interesting way that isn’t fully revealed until just after the halfway point of the movie. It really works to build tension and slowly reveal the full scope of what is happening to Daniel. Malarek is threatened by several figures to stay out of this and not dig deeper…but telling that to a motivated journalist only confirms their initial hunch. Once on the scent of this big story, nothing deters Malarek – which creates a lot of conflict in his personal and professional life. The parallels that can be drawn to Malarek and Daniel are clear and interesting to explore.
Hartnett isn’t an actor who usually would draw me into watching a film. I mostly remember him from his earlier films, and I went into this not expecting much from him. However, I think he is perfectly cast for this role, and he pulls off this performance in such a memorable way. He is built to play the burly intellectual. It is common to slap glasses on an action star and have a filmmaker expect that to be enough to justify them as intelligent. Hartnett is built like an action star, but he plays the intellectual elements of his journalistic role so believably that you get past his bulk.
Gaffigan and McHattie are solid in their respective roles. Gaffigan actually gets to break away from his usual typecasting, and is surprisingly menacing in his role as Picker. However, the standout is Pilon. He has to earn so much empathy from the audience, and his performance is perfectly crafted in order to do that. Could he be a criminal? Yes, his performance implies that he could be. However, there is a mysterious quality about him that implies there is more there than just that. He makes mistakes, but he isn’t totally lost. You root for him, and all of that relies on the quality of Pilon’s performance.
Most Wanted (2020) is definitely worth watching. There are few films more thrilling to me than a journalistic thriller…of course, I am a journalist, and that is a box that gets checked almost immediately for me to be on board. Still, there have been films about journalists that don’t work for me. This movie clicked, and it earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.