Wander

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Wander Movie Poster Image
Bloody violence in off-the-rails paranoid thriller.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 93 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie raises issues of trust, warning us that no one is to be trusted. The downside of that is that when people do tell the truth, nobody believes them. A title card before the opening credits talks about problems with discrimination against immigrants; even though the movie does a fairly poor job of offering a message on that topic, at least the title card offers something to think about.

Positive Role Models

Arthur is the only one here who, in theory, might qualify as a role model (all of the other characters are either villains or suspects), but he's too unhinged. He's a wreck, popping fistfuls of pills to deal with his grief over the loss of his daughter and paranoid to the point of extreme anxiety (and which point, he pops more pills). It's actually a fairly negative portrayal of someone who might be suffering from serious issues like anxiety and grief.

Violence

Guns and shooting. Blood spurts. Bloody, gory wounds. Dead bodies. Car crashes. Small girl killed in car crash; she's seen lying on pavement. Character hit in the head with a frying pan. Intense flashback/nightmare sequences. Other disturbing imagery.

Sex
Language

A use of "f--kin'," a use of "goddamn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character pops fistfuls of various prescription drugs, described as "psychotics" (but really anti-psychotics?). Adult characters drink beer socially.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wander is a paranoid thriller about a conspiracy theorist (Aaron Eckhart) who's investigating a series of murders in a small town. It begins with a pointed message about the problems with discrimination against immigrants, but it quickly turns into an off-the-rails experience, and it's unclear whether you're supposed to take it seriously. Violence is pretty intense, with guns and shooting, dead bodies, bloody/gory wounds and blood spurts, car crashes, a child dying, a character getting hit with a blunt object, and some disturbing, nightmarish imagery. The main character also pops fistfuls of various prescription drugs that are described as "psychotics," and adult characters drink beer socially. Language includes a use of "f--kin'" and a use of "goddamn."

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What's the story?

In WANDER, Arthur Bretnik (Aaron Eckhart) is an ex-cop-turned-private-investigator who also hosts a podcast about paranoid conspiracy theories with his friend Jimmy (Tommy Lee Jones). Arthur is struggling to cope with the death of his daughter, which he addresses by taking fistfuls of prescription meds. A woman calls into the podcast claiming that her own daughter was murdered and that the authorities are in on it. So Arthur heads to the small town of Wander to investigate. He starts uncovering startling things, including the exact same exit wound on several different victims, as well as an underground bunker and a mysterious woman (Katheryn Winnick) who seems to be in all the wrong places at all the wrong times. Will Arthur's paranoia protect him until he gets to the bottom of things?

Is it any good?

This off-the-rails paranoid thriller is so untethered -- not helped by Eckhart's unpredictable, inconsistent performance -- that it's difficult to tell whether it's taking itself seriously. At certain times in Wander, Eckhart's Arthur recalls some of Nicolas Cage's loopier characters (he's frequently out of breath and wincing in pain); at other times, he lowers his chin and snarls and growls like Christian Bale's Batman. It's difficult to know whether he actually knows what he's doing or whether he's a disaster waiting to happen. It's also difficult to tell just how the other characters relate to him. As for one character who keeps popping up, Shelley (Heather Graham), we don't learn until near the end that she's his lawyer!

Wander purposely employs little holes in the storytelling, omitting crucial events and then explaining them later; this presumably is an attempt to build suspense, but it only builds annoyance and confusion. Director April Mullen spends a lot of time following behind Eckhart, staring at his back as Arthur investigates things, and most of the rest of the time on nauseatingly jerky hand-held camerawork. Meanwhile, Breaking Bad's Raymond Cruz has very little to do, and Jones mostly phones in his performance, but at least he adds a few moments of lightness. Overall, this movie is just screwy enough that it might amuse viewers who are caught in the right mood.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Wander violence. How graphic is it, and how did it make you feel? Are there parts that maybe didn't need to be shown? Should more have been shown?

  • How are prescription medications depicted here? Are they taken responsibly? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • Is the main character's condition (anxiety, paranoia, etc.) treated respectfully, or are his challenges exploited to tell the story?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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