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DVD Review: Wander

January 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

In Wander, the latest film from Canadian director April Mullen, a paranoid private investigator named Arthur Bretnik (Aaron Eckhart) is hired to investigate the mysterious death of a young woman in an American small town called Wander.

Arthur is a former cop who worked in the homicide division, until a family tragedy derailed his career. Now he lives in the desert and hosts a conspiracy-fuelled radio show with his friend Jimmy Cleats (Tommy Lee Jones), where they bring attention to underground human experiments and rail against government control.

He is brought to Wander to investigate the strange case of a young woman whose chest literally exploded when she tried to flee. Arthur starts to believe that the town is ground zero for a vast conspiracy network with ties to his own past, or is it? You see, Arthur is on a cocktail of medications and is prone to hallucinations, including vivid flashbacks to the accident that claimed the life of his young daughter, and there is a chance this is all in his head.

This undefined mental illness that Arthur is living with feels like one of the more underdeveloped parts of writer Tom Doiron’s screenplay, and is used almost exclusively as a plot device to cast doubt in the audience’s mind over what is really happening. Eckhart overplays much of this, delivering a far from subtle performance that relies heavily upon “crazy eyes” and frantic movements. It’s an acting choice that he fully commits to, but it’s also sort of questionable at times.

Then again, the film around him also feels overly frantic in its assembly, with its dizzying camera movements and quick jump cuts between moments in time often making it hard to focus on what is happening. I also think that the reliance upon Arthur being an unreliable narrator actually undermines some of what Mullen is trying to do here, which is namely to offer an indictment of extreme border control practices and the surveillance state.

I do think that the storytelling is overly murky, and the film is often unnecessarily convoluted in its execution, but there are still some interesting ideas here, and I can’t say that Wander didn’t hold my attention while it was on. For his part, Jones embraces the kookiness of his character and has fun hamming it up as a sort of Alex Jones stand-in. The cast is rounded out by Heather Graham as Arthur’s lawyer and friend, as well as Katheryn Winnick as a mysterious woman in a black hat and sunglasses who is hot on his trail.

It’s a little too flawed to offer a full-fledged recommendation, and despite any number of twists and red herrings, the film also ends up feeling sort of predictable. But Wander still has enough going on to make it mildly worth a look, especially if you generally enjoy conspiracy thrillers.

Bonus Features (DVD):

The DVD includes no bonus features. A code for a digital copy is included in the package.

Wander is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 92 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 19th, 2021

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