Most Wanted

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Most Wanted Movie Poster Image
Effective true-crime story has drugs, crooked cops.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 125 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Depicts corrupt, real-life systems that allow an innocent man to be locked up for life. Also depicts the brave and unflagging efforts of a few good people to stand up against difficult odds.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Journalist Victor Malarek (based on a real person) and Daniel Léger (based on the real-life Alain Olivier) could both be considered role models in some ways, as flawed as they are. Victor often puts his work ahead of his family, but does learn his lesson by the end. He can also be pushy and threatening, but his efforts do save a life. Daniel is a drug addict who tries to get clean but falls off the wagon several times -- but his efforts to continue fighting also result in his freedom. By the end, he has embraced spirituality (Zen Buddhism) and (according to end titles) never touched heroin again. Female characters are thinly drawn, largely lack agency.


Guns and shooting. Bloody dead body in street. Prison fighting, punching, stabbing, bloody wounds. One character slices another's face, with blood. Woman attacked in her home, windows smashed. Car crash. Stealing gas for motorcycle.


Kissing. One character straddles another. Sexy dancing. Brief objectification of a woman. Brief lewd doodling.


Frequent strong language includes uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," "t-ts," the "N" word and other racist slurs, "ass," "hell," "d--k," "pr--k," and "porn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drugs are a major part of the story. Drug smuggling and dealing. Drug use, mostly smoking heroin/blends of heroin. Drugs (mainly heroin) and drug paraphernalia shown. Social drinking. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Most Wanted is a crime drama based on real events. It tells the story of a Canadian man who's set up by crooked police to look like a drug lord. He's imprisoned in Thailand while a journalist fights to get him out. Drug dealing and drug use are major parts of the story: Drugs are shown and used, drug paraphernalia is shown, and a character is said to be an addict. There's also cigarette smoking and social drinking. Violent content includes guns and shooting, blood, dead bodies, fighting, stabbing, a car crash, and a woman and child in peril (their home is attacked, windows smashed). Language is very strong, with frequent use of "f--k," "s--t," and more. A couple kisses, with the man briefly straddling the woman. Three characters dance in a sexy way, and there's brief objectification of a woman. Josh Hartnett and Antoine Olivier Pilon co-star. Though it's long and a bit messy, the movie has an interesting structure and characters, and it's recommended for mature viewers.

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What's the story?

In MOST WANTED, Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett) wants to dig deeper into a story about a Canadian citizen who's been arrested for dealing heroin and is being held in Thailand. Meanwhile, Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a heroin addict who's trying to go straight, finishes a logging job and promptly has all his money stolen. But Picker (Jim Gaffigan), who runs a fishing boat, hires him. When he's tempted by a package of heroin, Daniel finds himself in debt to Picker and gets involved in a scheme to bring back a shipment of drugs from Thailand. The plan is engineered by a team of crooked cops led by Frank Cooper (Stephen McHattie).
As Victor gets closer to the truth, he finds his wife, Anna (Amanda Crew), and their newborn daughter threatened by unknown forces.

Is it any good?

Messy and overlong, this based-on-a-true-story crime drama still has an innovative structure and crisp, colorful performances that grab you, even as you feel enraged by its cruelty and corruption. With Most Wanted, writer-director Daniel Roby has figured out a creative way to tell the story from various ends, all meeting in the middle with a satisfying snap. This way, a variety of characters end up feeling more human -- they drive the story rather than being driven by it. Pilon is terrific, at first coming across as past redemption but eventually developing fears and hopes that make him appealing.

Gaffigan adds dark humor to his nasty, deceitful character, and McHattie is as grizzled as they come, broken by the fact that he's been overlooked for a much needed promotion. Hartnett swaggers across the screen with his long, flowing hair, but he too becomes likable thanks to his connection to his wife. Unfortunately, Crew has little to do other than wait for her husband and worry, and the only other major female character, played by Rose-Marie Perreault, disappears before she can leave much of a mark. Roby relies on irritating, wobbly hand-held camerawork for much of the movie, and it does occasionally betray a bit of self-importance and bloat, but overall Most Wanted works thanks to its focus and its life energy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Most Wanted's violence. Is it meant to be realistic? Does it feel shocking or exciting? How does the movie achieve this feeling?

  • How are drugs depicted? Are they glamorized? Are there consequences for using drugs? Why does that matter?

  • The movie is based on a true story. How accurate do you think it is to what actually happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in a movie based on real life? How could you find out more?

  • Are either Victor Malarek or Daniel Léger, or both, role models? Why? What are their faults? Do their achievements overcome their faults?

  • Why do you think the police officers who engineered this scheme weren't punished? How did you feel about them at the end of the movie? What could be done to change this kind of situation in the future?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills and drama

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