“Rudderless” Life Off Course (Film Review)



Taking a turn at directing William H. Macy offers a nicely acted drama with music and a little comedy called Rudderless. The indie movie, targeted for the adult crowd, takes you into the life of a family man who has to deal with the tragic loss of is son. It’s a gripping story that evolves into an emotional twist.

Rudderless tells its poignant story in a very interesting way. Using the lyrics and music of his son Josh’s songs, Sam Manning (Billy Crudup) tries to recover from the loss of his only child. He’s bewildered and mad about the boy’s untimely death involving a college campus shooting. Two years later we find that Sam has moved from the area to live a reclusive life on his boat at a lake in a small town. There he listens to Josh’s voice and original music that he had recorded on CDs and plays his guitar while trying to make sense of it all.

Anton Yelchin as Quentin and Billy Crudup as Sam in Rudderless

Anton Yelchin as Quentin and Billy Crudup as Sam in Rudderless

One evening he drops into a town bar owned by Trill (William H. Macy) who offers his stage to budding singers. Sam takes a chance and plays one of Josh’s songs on stage getting a lot of applause. At the bar he also gets to meet Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a young struggling musician and singer about the same age as Josh. Quentin is so impressed with Sam’s lyrics and melodies that he wants to sing with him on stage. While Sam tries to avoid the young man, Quentin’s prodding finally gets him to sing one of Josh’s songs on stage together. Each night they add another member of the group and the bar starts to overflow with customers. With business booming Trill hires the group who name themselves Rudderless.

When Sam’s past starts to catch up with him however, he starts on another downward spiral causing him to quit Rudderless. First time Director William H. Macy does a terrific job of utilizing his fine cast to tell the unusual tale of heartbreak and unhappiness. He keeps his audience intrigued feeding them crumbs of Sam’s bitter loss and the son he lost. Then through the music he shows Sam’s rise from the ashes playing tunes that lift him out of his depression. Using some creative camerawork, Macy films some excellent stage performances bonding Quentin and Sam together as a makeshift father and son.

Sam (Crudup) faces up to Josh's girlfriend Ann (Selena Gomez) in Rudderless

Sam (Crudup) faces up to Josh’s girlfriend Ann (Selena Gomez) in Rudderless

Crudup pulls off a very touching performance under Macy’s guidance, setting up the audience for a twist that I did not see coming. He shows Sam’s downcast vision of the world, giving the impression that he will never obtain normalcy from the tragedy. But, between Quentin, Trill and music store owner Dell (Lawrence Fishburne), they help to pull him up by his bootstraps. But, it’s the twist that triggers an eye opening finale, and where Crudup makes his best performance.

In support, Yelchin plays the catalyst that lifts Sam from his decline. The two have a great chemistry together, a closeness that provides the energy for the film. With Quentin’s coaxing and showing his need to be able to sing on stage, he gets Sam off his boat and onto Trill’s sage. The two do their own singing and really click together in the film making the story even more realistic.

William H Macy on the set of Rudderless

William H Macy on the set of Rudderless

Macy puts on a good show for his first directing of a feature length theatrical. His acting career has gathered a huge fan base, but it’s his ability behind the camera that now impresses me the most. If he can get another chance directing another meaty script, I’m sure we will see more of his filmmaking. Macy can currently be seen on Showtime as Frank Gallagher in the fourth season of Shameless.

Rudderless develops the character of Josh through the character’s songs offering the audience a look at his personality and a chance to understand his ideas of love and outlook for the future. Convincing vocals by Crudup and Yelchin give the film a lift from the morose and create a toe tapping musical. Among the list of songs are “Home” and “Real Friends” sung by Yelchin and Crudup, “Stay Witty” , “Over Your Shoulder” and “Beautiful Mess”, by the group Rudderless that includes the two actors.

Rudderless has been rated R for language. Be cautious when deciding to allow immature children of any age see the film as it does have some age appropriate scenes.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A nicely directed and well-acted film with a twist. (B)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Jamie Chung with Selena Gomez and Laurence Fishburne
Directed by: William H. Macy
Genre: Drama, Music
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 1 hr 45 min
Release Date: October 17, 2014
Distributed by: A Samuel Goldwin Films Release

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