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Most Wanted | Review

Canada Dry: Roby Runs Circles in Derivative Poliziotteschi

Daniel Roby Most Wanted ReviewMost Wanted (or as it was released in Canada, Target Number One), the fifth feature from French Canadian director Daniel Roby may be indeed be ‘inspired’ by true events, but is presented in such a way which more rightly justifies the expression of being inspired by other films.

A derivative mishmash of elements which attempts to streamline a tenacious investigative journalist’s efforts to unearth federal corruption and conspiracy which found an innocent Canadian citizen jailed in a Thai prison for eight years thanks to botched, illegally orchestrated operation in the war on drugs, Roby’s screenplay prizes excessive melodrama in a narrative with a misplaced focus. While commanding a notable coterie of character actors, all lurking underneath the extended onslaught of the film’s more notable cast members, Roby offers up a variety of derivative perspectives and tangents which hearken back to Canuxploitation.

In 1989 Vancouver, troubled young heroin addict Daniel Leger (Antoine Olivier Pilon) finds himself at the center of a sting orchestrated between a local drug dealer (Jim Gaffigan) and crooked law enforcement officials (Stephen McHattie, Mark Camacho) meant to highlight the local government’s successful crackdown on drugs. Their plan is to get Leger to travel to Thailand, transport drugs and therefore be apprehended in Vancouver. But when Thai officials don’t play along, Leger gets nabbed in Bangkok and sentenced to either death or one hundred years in prison. When the indefatigable investigative journalist Vincent Malarek (Josh Hartnett) gets word of the predicament, he pursues the lead to its logical conclusion in the name of justice.

From the soundtrack selection (including New Order, Aretha Franklin and Phil Collins) to the stilted exchanges between authority figures and subordinates, nothing feels authentic about Most Wanted. The sole sequence which invites the audience into the mise en scene is the bungled exchange in Thailand.

What seems calibrated as an interesting performance from Antoine Olivier Pilon (whose breakthrough was the lead in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy in 2014) is continually hampered by Roby focusing on the peripheries of his story. We learn more about Hartnett’s valiant Victor Malarek, his personal life, aspirations and fears, then almost anything about Leger, a junkie who hails from a dysfunctional home life but who isn’t quite presented as someone who has really hit rock bottom, or at least the lengths of desperation which would justify his partaking in the ridiculous scheme hatched by McHattie (as usual, effectively menacing) and Gaffigan (the other character we spend too much time with).

Pilon’s Leger (who is a bit like a young Jeremie Renier) is formatted as a naive teen who likes to party, which lessens the addiction issues at hand—not to mention his eventual spiritual epiphany in prison, again, glossed over in favor of focus on Hartnett.

Most Wanted plays like an egregious copycat of tropes from Midnight Express (1978) and All the President’s Men (1976) but can’t quite seem to convey the mood conjured in either of those films. Even it’s introduction to Hartnett’s journalist, a hysterical interview which segues into a car chase to a hospital with a reveal which was used similarly in Bad Boys for Life (2020) feels muted by twists and turns which oscillate from one generic element to another.

★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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