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film review

Josh Hartnett stars as journalist Victor Malarek in Target Number One.Handout

  • Target Number One
  • Written and directed by Daniel Roby
  • Starring Josh Hartnett, Antoine Olivier Pilon and Jim Gaffigan
  • Classification 14A; 135 minutes


3 out of 4 stars

There are three rules when it comes to movies about journalists. The first is that you cannot make a journalism movie unless it is about crusading journalists – investigative bloodhounds who will go to any lengths and blow any expense accounts to uncover the shocking truth about our compromised world. (And, of course, they’ll need the front page, dammit.) The second rule is that the journalist must also be portrayed as something of a jerk, putting the story above everything else in his or her life, including health, family and the work-life balance of their overtaxed editors. And the third rule? Well, it’s that journalists themselves go absolutely bonkers for these movies, which tend to self-righteously reaffirm so many of our poor career choices.

So I was in the tank for Target Number One – a new thriller focusing on a reporter’s struggle to expose corruption in the Canadian and Thai legal systems – from the get-go. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how large a role my employer, The Globe and Mail, plays in the film itself. When the film’s hero first utters the phrase, “I’m here for The Globe” and slaps down a copy of the newspaper – not some movie-land fictionalization, but an actual Globe and Mail with the correct font and everything – I was hooked.

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Your mileage may vary, though. Especially if you find journalists like Victor Malarek – a real-life scribe who reported for The Globe in the ’80s and now works for CTV’s W5 – more annoying than inspiring. As portrayed by Josh Hartnett in director Daniel Roby’s new film, Malarek teeters between tenacious truth-teller and abrasive ass. He is convinced that there is a massive story of corruption and greed brewing in Thailand involving drug dealers, the RCMP and an innocent Canadian addict serving a 100-year prison sentence. The cops won’t tell him anything, his editors are skeptical, and he’s maybe using the story as an excuse to run away from his newfound parental responsibilities. But the man has a “gut instinct” – which is also the title of Malarek’s 1996 memoir – and so off he goes into Thailand to set things right.

If Roby simply traced Malarek’s journey, it would have been compelling enough material, at least for the very narrow audience of The Globe and Mail writers tasked with reviewing this movie. Fortunately, the Québécois filmmaker is just as interested in the plight of jailed ne’er-do-well Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon) and the lazy cop (Stephen McHattie) responsible for the mess as he is in the mechanics of The Globe. The result is a three-pronged narrative that inventively plays with structure and time, allowing the natural dramatic tension of Malarek’s international chase to nicely dovetail with Léger’s ugly experiences in the criminal justice system.

In between, Roby finds a good amount of room to let comedian Jim Gaffigan play entertainingly against type as Léger’s conniving criminal associate, and even squeezes in an obligatory Cancon appearance by Don McKellar as Malarek’s W5 colleague. There is not much more you could ask of a Canadian thriller, even if the director lets the Thailand-set portions of the film devolve slightly into clichéd Brokedown Palace territory.

Then there are the various elisions when it comes to the down-and-dirty work of journalism, with Roby depicting the profession as one of shortcuts and leaps of faith. It’s not an insulting simplification of the job as much as it is a standard Hollywood-ization, familiar to anyone who has seen State of Play or Truth or Shock and Awe. I only wish it was more in line with Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which was careful to underline the slow and methodical reality of the job.

Coincidentally, McCarthy sent a few of his Spotlight actors over to The Globe for research purposes – something that Roby did with Hartnett, too. But maybe Target Number One (which is being released as the blandly titled Most Wanted in the U.S.) should have taken a bit more time to nail down the specifics of The Globe. For starters: The paper has never published Sundays, despite the insistence of Malarek’s editor. The office where reporters get into various shouting matches has approximately 100-per-cent more natural light than the paper’s real ’80s headquarters ever did. And the fact that a unionized writer like Malarek might get fired because he hasn’t written anything in two months is ... um ... interesting.

Granted, these are slip-ups that only Globe employees would gripe about. But when you’re making a movie about a principled quest for the truth, details matter. Target Number One reports, but audiences decide.

Target Number One opens July 10 in Quebec and B.C. theatres, with more Canadian locations to be announced over the summer

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