April Mullen’s Wander

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with April Mullen’s Wander and my hopes may have not been that high just based on reviews but I honestly loved this wild, scrappy, unconventional, ‘pulp arthouse’, sociopolitically conscious bauble of a film so much. Many won’t vibe with it and that’s okay because it’s supremely weird, visually stylish and kinetic in the fashion that filmmakers like Tony Scott and Oliver Stone traffic in and, quite frankly, all over the place in terms of tone, editing and plot to the point that many viewers will feel assaulted by commotion. I love it for all the reasons mentioned because my tastes always gravitate towards the wild, wooly, artsy and just plain strange. Aaron Eckart and Tommy Lee Jones give perhaps the two performances of their career that are most… ‘unlike their essence’, playing a couple of crusty, paranoid conspiracy theorists who run a tinfoil hat podcast from their dusty trailer. One night a distraught mother calls into their show claiming her daughter was kidnapped by shadowy government factions and corrupt law enforcement and enlists their help, so they pack up and venture out to Wander, NM, a literal one horse town with a nervous sheriff (Raymond Cruz) who knows more than he lets on and a mysterious cowgirl (Kathryn Winnick) who lurks about the place. Eckhart’s character has a lot to contend with beyond the task at hand, he’s ridden with PTSD from a former accident that killed his daughter and left his wife in brain damaged catatonia. Their investigation leads them to some pretty disturbing revelations that I won’t spoil here but there’s an interesting psychological juxtaposition between what’s really going on and what’s a facet of their already fractured collective mental states. Eckhart is wonderfully intense, barking and growling out his lines with the ferocity set on low burn and looking frantic as a wild animal, while Jones is the cunning old dog who is marginally more put together and tries to steady his pal but is still completely out of it himself. Heather Graham gives a wonderfully soulful supporting performance as a good friend of Eckhart’s who does her best to help him through what’s going on. What I really loved about this film is how many tones and styles tributary together for an often raucous but incredibly singular experience. The film opens with a preface paying respect to indigenous and all peoples of colour who have been displaced and mistreated along many borders and immediately begins with a jarring prologue as a Native woman flees unseen forces in a speeding car. Director April Mullens uses elaborate, tricky, swooping, unbelievably dynamic camera movements and chopper/drone shots to bring the story to life in an immersive and breathtaking way, and the musical talent of Canadian indigenous artist Jeremy Dutcher adds haunting atmospherics to the soundscape. This film is a lot of things, and it will no doubt be too much, or too ‘out there’ for many but it’s right up my dusty backcountry alley. Bizarre, confounding, melodic, emotional, frightening, it’s altogether like nothing I’ve seen and truly one for the books.

-Nate Hill

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