Target Number One review – gritty thriller about Canadian junkie caught in Thai sting

Leslie Felperin
·2-min read

Pulpy, structurally a touch otiose, but eminently watchable throughout, this based-on-real-events crime drama tells two entwined stories. One is about a French-Canadian drug addict called Daniel Legér (Antoine Olivier Pilon, from Xavier Dolan’s Mommy), a stand-in for actual historical figure Alain Olivier, who becomes the entrapped fall guy for a disastrous drug sting organised by Vancouver police officers in Thailand. The other half, snipped together via tricksy editing to disguise which events are taking place before the stories converge, is about the determined if showboaty journalist Victor Malarek (a role flatteringly filled by Josh Hartnett) who delved into Legér’s case.

Related: Josh Hartnett: 'People genuinely thought I'd been thrust on them'

As Legér is drawn deep – by his appetite for heroin – into a shady conspiracy involving his shifty boss Glen (comedian Jim Gaffigan) and assorted character actors in ill-fitting plainclothes led by an undercover cop named Cooper (Stephen McHattie, a study in crag and crotchetiness), it gets harder to back out. In a way, the same goes for Malarek, who ends up losing two journalist jobs and – almost – his wife (Amanda Crew) and infant daughter when he gets too close to the truth.

Using blanched lighting setups and grainy effects, the film evokes those gritty 1970s true-crime films such as Midnight Express and The French Connection, and that’s always a good thing. Props are due to the production design team who have dug up every rotary phone, cruddy early-80s computer terminal and plasticky office chair needed to populate the newsroom sets and dens of iniquity. Both Pilon and Hartnett make for sturdy, complementary leads, strong enough to keep you from noticing that they are only ever in two scenes together.

• Target Number One is on digital formats from 2 November.