If you’re the kind of person who races to Rotten Tomatoes before you give a movie the time of day, then you probably think Wander isn’t worth your time.
After reading this review of April Mullen’s interpretation of Tim Doiron’s script, you might be persuaded to give the film another chance.
Not only is the story unique, but it’s brought to life by an all-star cast. When a group of actors like this assembles for a low-budget film, it’s worth considering that they saw something special in the material.
Although it will be tough, I will do my best not to spoil too much of the movie here in the review.
The more you know about the story’s particulars, the less likely you will be surprised by what unfolds before you. This isn’t the kind of movie that you’ll enjoy if you know too much.
Wander follows Arthur Bretnik, a former police detective turned private investigator who is reeling from the loss of his daughter in a devastating accident that left him with a limp, and his wife buried so deep inside of herself that she needs constant care and no longer communicates.
Given his nature and the severity of his loss, the lack of answers for his family’s cataclysmic loss and the life he once knew finds Arthur grasping at straws to find meaning in the calamity.
One of those straws he’s grasping is a hail Mary pass.
With the urging of his best friend, Jimmy Cleats (Tommy Lee Jones), Arthur explores a wide range of clues, attempting to cobble together a reason for the accident.
Jimmy’s conspiracy theorist podcast enables Arthur to seek answers with seemingly disparate evidence. That’s what conspiracy theorists do. They keep looking until they find something in common between each piece of their hypothesis with the belief that there if there are no coincidences, then you’re looking in the right place.
Arthur and Jimmy aren’t alone in their quest to make sense out of nonsense. Conspiracy theorists thrive on the internet, and many use amateur detective skills to solve unsolved murders or prove the impossible.
Arthur is doing a little bit of both. His investigation leads him to believe he’s on the right path with his belief there was a conspiracy afoot leading to his family’s accident. When a woman hires him to investigate her daughter’s death, the case takes him to Wander, a small, deserted town in New Mexico.
The desolation leads Arthur to wonder aloud why anyone would want to live there. If Arthur seemed off-kilter before, once he’s in Wander, he’s so eager to find something that connects his case and his own accident that you can’t tell if what he’s witnessing is real or in his mind.
Pulling off this kind of story isn’t easy, but Eckhart immerses himself into Arthur’s grief and his odd nature. It’s a role I could have seen Nic Cage or Johnny Depp taking on, as they pride themselves by tackling eccentric and erratic characters.
Eckhart fluctuates beautifully from his wife’s caregiver to an unstable presence in Wander, who seemingly has no obstacles in his quest.
Initially greeted in Wander by the sheriff (Raymond Cruz) hoping to get info on the interloper in his town with a promise they’ll see each other again, it’s downright odd that Arthur is almost invisible as he investigates.
So that’s the gist of the film. An unstable man’s quest to make sense of the nonsensical. Some have watched and thought what unfolds is nonsensical itself, but with all of the pieces in place, Arthur’s actions and his bizarre journey make a lot of sense.
Grief affects everyone differently, but most people need to make sense of what happened. Most people aren’t professional sleuths whose best friend is a conspiracy theorist.
Those three factors create a perfect storm in Arthur, who slowly loses his tether on reality. Mullen does her best to show viewers how he feels and why he’s doggedly pursuing answers, but there are a few times along the way when she gets off track.
The story plays linearly, later backtracking to refocus the story and add more layers to the mystery. A few times that falls flat, but not enough to ruin the whole experience.
Eckhart makes it very easy to buy into Arthur and his struggles, and that doesn’t change from the first to the last frame. He’s the lead in every sense of the word, with the other stars supporting his efforts.
Other than Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick also have roles. Graham is a trusted family friend Arthur counts on to support him and his wife in their new normal, and Winnick is a mysterious woman in Wander.
Brendan Fehr has a minimal part, but it made me chuckle since his career was launched with Roswell, a conspiracy theory if we’ve ever heard of one, and in New Mexico, no less.
There is a confusing aspect to Wander. At the beginning of the film, the filmmakers set the tone with words about racial injustices for Black, Brown, indigenous people, and immigrants by way of an apology. That’s tied together with one of the film’s final scenes in relation to immigration and incarceration.
While that’s a noble endeavor, it seems strange that what comes after that initial apology is a predominantly white cast carrying the film.
The setting and what Arthur uncovers while in Wander offer the tiniest hint as to why that apology and the ending tied together, but for me, it was the genuine head-scratcher.
If you like trying to figure out what the hell is happening on screen and have even a passing fancy in conspiracies, then Wander is worth a look. The cast is having a great time, and they don’t hold back.
As Arthur’s life goes off the rails, everyone on board the production seems like they’re in on the secret and doing their best to ensure you don’t go away unhappy.
And this viewer, at least, lived up to that challenge. Check it out and let me know if you do, too.
Wander is available On Demand across all major platforms.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.