The limp is pronounced, the crazy eyes pop out here and there. But the twitchy-tic that has long been cinema-speak for “cracking?” That’s implied, more something you feel than what Aaron Eckhart actually shows the camera in “Wander.” Because you can’t have a “paranoid thriller” without the hero’s paranoia.
Eckhart gives a tour de force turn as an ex-cop and conspiracy podcast co-host who chases a case to a desert town named Wander where an awful lot of what he’s believed all this time seems to be proven true.
It’s a solid enough thriller about video “monitoring,” implanted tracking/controlling chips, “compromised” phones and people who die from bullet wounds, but without the bullet. That’s all part and parcel of the “Deep Web Podcast” that Arthur and his accomplice Jimmy (Tommy Lee Jones) run from the remote travel trailers “compound” they’ve named “Middle of Nowhere.”
“Big Brother” and “MK-Ultra” and the “Illuminati” and “White Sands/Alamogordo” dominate their nightly ramblings in this a world they and their listeners have checked out of, a world out of time woven in a dark web they unravel for eager listeners.
Arthur’s a guy living in flashbacks, broken by the night two years ago when a car crash killed his daughter. He keeps her fortune cookie fortune in a Lucite block dangling from his keychain. His wife was rendered catatonic and left in full-time nursing home care. Arthur is the walking wounded, getting “worked up” by Jimmy, given a little private eye work by a lawyer (Heather Graham) who might be his sister-in-law.
A young woman’s execution is what drew Arthur to Wander, where he decorates his motel room in that photos-and-newsclippings “connect the dots” style favored by the movie investigators and copied by the “Beautiful Mind” crowd. He digs around, breaking into the morgue, getting anonymous tips, having his worst fears confirmed at every turn.
We remember, even if he doesn’t, Jimmy’s podcast mantra about the way “whistle-blowers” like them wind up — “pawn, patsy or dead.“
Is he onto something here? Was he “lured?” When you live by “There ARE no coincidences,” anything is possible.
The cast is top notch across the board, with Kathryn Winnick and Raymond Cruz as vivid caricature versions of a town medical examiner and sheriff.
Director April Mullen’s film doesn’t hide its secrets well enough (note the vehicles) and makes more of the story’s politics than the film delivers. The actress-turned-director is Canadian Anishinaabe Algonquin with mostly TV credits and does well by this simple yet convoluted story.
Tom Doiron’s first produced script lapses into a long series of over-explained “expository endings” which spoil the mystery of what’s come before.
But Eckhart reminds us of how good he can be when given a showy role, and a supporting cast worthy of his talents.
MPA Rating: R, violence
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham, Kathryn Winnick, Raymond Cruz
Credits: Directed by April Mullen, script by Tim Doiron. A Saban Films release.
Running time: 1:33