â€śWanderâ€ť is a film that is so bewildering and inexplicable that if I were to even attempt to offer up a summation of its plot, it is likely that most of you would regard me as being as nutty as most of those people in the film regard its central character.That would be Arthur Bretnik (Aaron Eckhart), a former cop and emotionally disturbed conspiracy buff suffering from PTSD and assorted other mental traumas in the wake of a horrific car accident that killed his daughter and rendered his wife catatonicâ€”an accident that he is convinced was anything but a mere accident. Arthur and his friend, Jimmy Cleats (Tommy Lee Jones), a Hawaiian shirt-clad oddball with whom he co-hosts a podcast dedicated to conspiracy theories, are hired to go to the remote town of Wander and investigate the recent murder of a young womanâ€”in the prologue, we see her running down a desolate road when her chest mysteriously explodes. After poking around a bit, Arthur is convinced that he has hit the mother lode and that the town holds the secrets to the vast and nefarious government plan that he is convinced is the reason behind the previous attempt on his life. Then again, there is always the chance that every bit of â€śproofâ€ť that he discovers is all in his increasingly fevered mind. Occasionally helping or hindering Arthur along the way are Elsa Viceroy (Kathryn Winnick), who may or may not be a government agent who has all the answers he needs, and Shelly Luscomb (Heather Graham), who may or may not be his lawyer and best pal.
The problem with â€śWanderâ€ť is not so much that it tells the story of an increasingly delusional character who keeps slipping off of the forward path and getting tangled up in increasingly confused side issues. Hell, I enjoy a good paranoid conspiracy thriller as much as the next personâ€”the revelation that â€śThe Parallax Viewâ€ť was imminently due for the Criterion Collection treatment was a cause for celebration. The problem with the film is that it seems to be succumbing to the same problems as its hero and the combination of the increasingly convoluted narrative and the gimmicky visual flourishes employed by director April Mullen to approximate Arthurâ€™s disoriented state of being makes for a viewing experience that ultimately proves to be too jumbled for its own good. Most of the actors seem as lost as viewers will no doubt beâ€”Eckhart tries to compensate by chewing the scenery throughout while most of the others seem unsure as to who they are or what they are supposed to be doing at any given moment. (The only performer who avoids this is Tommy Lee Jones, who just goes about his business, as if he wandered in from an entirely different movie, and winds up effectively cutting through the dramatic red tape surrounding him at all times.)I will certainly give â€śWanderâ€ť credit for not being just another cookie-cutter thriller but it quickly goes off the rails with all the bizarre questions that it raises and the answers that it offers are not nearly interesting enough to justify everything that came before it. For all of its elaborate convolutions, it just winds up as confused and muddled as its hero and left me feeling more annoyed than intrigued when it was all said and done.