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“Inspired by actual events” is not a phrase often associated with Canadian crime in the movies, but it does happen. There was 2011’s Edwin Boyd (a.k.a. Citizen Gangster ) about the 1940s Toronto bank robber, and 1982’s The Grey Fox , about train robber Bill Miner, a.k.a. The Grey Fox, a.k.a. The Gentleman Bandit.
Aliases seem to be the common factor in such movies, and Target Number One is no exception. You can find references to it by its U.S. name, Most Wanted , and its original title was Gut Instinct . The key criminal figure in the film goes by the name Daniel Leger, though a little digging reveals that the actual man’s name was Alain Olivier.
One detail not changed is Victor Malarek, the real name of the investigative journalist who helped crack the 1989 case in which “Leger,” a junkie, was set up by Canadian police to take part in a drug deal in Thailand that wound up sending him to prison there for 100 years.
In Quebec filmmaker Daniel Roby’s film, Malarek is played by Josh Hartnett in a handlebar moustache that somehow makes him look more Canadian, in that he now resembles Keanu Reeves’ animated character from Toy Story 4 . Leger is played by Montreal actor Antoine Olivier Pilon with an appealing mix of bravado and nervousness. And Frank Cooper, the RCMP officer at the centre of the sting, is played by Stephen McHattie, Canada’s go-to guy for creepy menace.
There’s a lovely moment about halfway into the film where the chronology snaps firmly into place
It’s not called the RCMP, mind you. In a sure sign of a Canadian production looking for international distribution, the Mounties are identified as the “Federal Police,” while the opening scene takes place in “British Columbia, Canada,” and what I presume is the CBC goes by the name National Television Studios. Oddly, the Globe and Mail , where Malarek works, keeps its name. I suppose some institutions are above reproach, or maybe beneath it.
Roby’s script finds Daniel knocking about and broke after a stint of tree planting. He runs into Picker, a jack-of-all-(illegal)-trades who operates a fishing charter and also dabbles in guns and drugs. Picker is being pressured by McHattie’s slimy cop to deliver a high-level drug dealer to make the force look good, and he decides to set up the unwitting Leger as just that.
Picker is played by Jim Gaffigan, who I’d say was playing against type if the comedian wasn’t forever taking oddly serious second-tier roles such as Kennedy associate Paul Markham in Chappaquiddick , or George Westinghouse in the upcoming biopic about Nikola Tesla. He’s wonderfully unpredictable in this role.
And while Hartnett is easily the biggest star in the film, Malarek’s quest is only one thread in a complicated tapestry that spends most of its time with Leger. Clever editing means the story of his eventual arrest plays out in tandem with his time in prison – though never confusing, there’s a lovely moment about halfway into the film where the chronology snaps firmly into place.
The story, mostly devoid of car chases and gunfire except in one key scene, may strike some as a little dour, a touch too Canadian, and Target Number One ’s fate outside our borders remains to be seen. But it’s a crafty crime thriller, a rough-and-ready Heritage Minute given room to bloom into something worthy of its feature length. Run it up the flagpole, I say.
Target Number One opens in cinemas – you read that right – in Vancouver and across Quebec on July 10, with additional cities to follow.
3 stars out of 5
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020