Chaotic edit­ing can’t spoil an en­thralling true-crime thriller

Chicago Sun-Times - - WEEKEND PLUS - BY RICHARD ROEPER, MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

What a mess. That ap­plies to the edit­ing tech­niques em­ployed in writer-di­rec­tor Daniel Roby’s en­thralling but need­lessly over­com­pli­cated true-crime thriller “Most Wanted” — and it ap­plies even more so to the gi­gan­tic mess made by Cana­dian law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who were so des­per­ate for a splashy bust they de­voted an in­sane amount of time and re­sources to bust­ing a small-time ad­dict and drug dealer who wound up fac­ing a life sen­tence in a Thai prison.

In­spired by true events but filled with fic­tional and quite the­atri­cal touches, the gener­i­cally ti­tled “Most Wanted” is set in the late 1980s and trav­els in two time­lines, one in­volv­ing Josh Hart­nett’s star in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Vic­tor Malarek (an ac­com­plished real-life reporter), and flashback se­quences cen­ter­ing on Daniel Leger (An­toine Olivier Pilon), a 25-year-old ad­dict liv­ing on the fringes of so­ci­ety and sup­port­ing his habit with mi­nor crimes and drug deals. Malerek

risks his ca­reer and even sees his fam­ily threat­ened over his dogged ef­forts to help Leger avoid spend­ing the rest of his life in prison in Thai­land on a con­vic­tion that is prob­lem­atic to say the least.

As we bounce back be­tween the two sto­ries, the time­line gets lost in the weeds — es­pe­cially when Vic­tor starts ap­pear­ing in the flashback se­quences and meet­ing with Daniel in prison in an ef­fort to ex­pose the in­jus­tices in­flicted upon Daniel. This pow­er­ful and well-acted story might have been much more ef­fec­tive if told in strictly lin­ear fashion.

But the edit­ing room is closed, so here we go. Hart­nett has the long-haired, swash­buck­ling, tal­ented but tem­per­a­men­tal jour­nal­ist thing down pat, as Vic­tor tire­lessly works his sources, moon­lights on a

TV magazine show, puts in 12-hour days and gets into spats with his ed­i­tor, who is grow­ing tired of Vic­tor’s an­tics but nonethe­less agrees to bankroll a trip to Thai­land, where Vic­tor wants to get to the bot­tom of the case that landed the small-timer Daniel Leger in prison and painted as a major drug dealer.

Mean­while, in the flashback se­quences, An­toine Olivier Pilon turns in a bril­liant per­for­mance as the trou­bled Daniel, who drifts around the Van­cou­ver area in search of his next score. Daniel’s wan­der­ing leads him to a fish­ing boat manned by a guy named Glen (Jim Gaf­fi­gan), who’s a real piece of work — charm­ing and funny one mo­ment, wav­ing a gun around and threat­en­ing lives the next. Glen is a drug dealer and a police in­for­mant, and he works both sides with equal de­ceit and ma­nip­u­la­tion. When vet­eran task force of­fi­cer Frank Cooper (Stephen McHat­tie) is passed over for a major pro­mo­tion, he’s champ­ing at the bit for a major bust, and he’s all too will­ing to be­lieve Glen’s B.S. story about Daniel be­ing a major car­tel player who is about to make a huge heroin buy in Thai­land. Glen ma­nip­u­lates the hap­less Daniel into tak­ing that trip, and be­fore you can say “dis­as­ter in the mak­ing,” Cooper and his team are pos­ing as drug buy­ers, Daniel is mak­ing prom­ises he can’t keep, and ev­ery­one ends up in an al­ley in Thai­land, and that’s when things go off the rails.

The char­ac­ter ac­tor Stephen McHat­tie owns ev­ery scene he’s in as the world-weary Cooper, who is so blinded by am­bi­tion he can’t see that Daniel is clearly not a big-time player. Jim Gaf­fi­gan once again re­minds us of his dra­matic chops; his char­ac­ter of Glen would be wor­thy of a whole movie him­self. “Most Wanted” runs a lit­tle long and a lit­tle ragged, but it’s still a solid adap­ta­tion of a mind-bog­gling, true-life story.

SA­BAN FILMS

Police are led to be­lieve a small-time drug ad­dict (An­toine Olivier Pilon) is a major dealer in “Most Wanted.”

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