Rudderless Review

Rudderless (2014) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Director: William H. Macy
Writers: Casey Twenter,  Jeff Robison
Stars: Billy Crudup,  Anton Yelchin,  Felicity Huffman

Rudderless is one of those movies that really finds the correct balance of emotion in the story, the characters and in this case the music. Sam played by Billy Crudup (Almost Famous and Watchmen) is confident advertising business executive who lives fast, talks fast and deals fast, keeping himself busy and hidden from his failed marriage. The best thing that has came out of his marriage is his son Josh who he appears to have good relations with and enjoys sharing his success stories and experiences with his boy.

Tragedy hits Sam when he discovers via a news flash that there has been a shooting at Josh’s school which sadly takes his life hitting Sam like a truck and sending him on a downward spiral.

Moving on two years and failing to cope with the loss, Sam locks himself away from the world and lives on his boat, whilst making a living as a painter and decorator and drinking his night away on the lake and using the lake as his own personal urinal. Whilst his ex wife played by Felicity Huffman is moving on and moving out of their old house she leaves Sam a few boxes of Josh’s possessions, which are music related. An acoustic guitar, an amplifier and a box of cds with Josh’s home recordings. Rudderless has some great songs that have a heartbreaking story behind the lyrics and it’s fair to say Billy Crudup is excellent as the grieving father in a downward spiral.

Sam reluctantly takes on board his boat Josh’s stuff and stumbles across a box of his recently deceased son’s demo tapes and lyrics. Sam is stunned to discover his son’s unknown talent and heartfelt demo tapes that he begins to listen to them on a daily basis whilst working, breaking down the chords and learning the lyrics as a coping mechanism for his loss and possible redemption.

Feeling compelled to go on stage for an open mic night at the local bar (ran by the director of this movie William H Macy) and try one of Josh’s songs in front of an audience, this is after he has had a few beers for Dutch courage. The tune catches the attention of Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a shy and socially awkward musician who feels a connection with the  quality of the songwriting and chord structure and convinces Sam to form a a collaboration with him with some coffee and donut bribery added in for good measure.

Sam reluctantly agrees, never admitting that he didn’t actually write any of the songs lyrics or music, and what begins as a duo quickly transforms into a four-piece that includes a pair of Yelchin’s fellow collaborators, played by Ben Kweller and Ryan Dean) on Drums and Bass respectively. The younger members of the band quickly come up with the name “Rudderless,” which takes a while to grow on Sam and the band begin to have a local following and he finds himself swept up in the joy of playing music, with no regard for the consequences that may come when his secret is inevitably found out.

Billy Crudup arguably gives his best performance since probably Almost Famous but it’s his chemistry with Anton Yelchin that drives the film in every scene they are in which really saddens the situation knowing the tragic circumstances in real life regarding Yelchin’s sad passing in 2016 knowing that such a young actor with brilliant range and charisma is no longer with us and fans of the actor being robbed of what other roles he would have worked on in the future.

The growing bond between Sam and Quentin is a thinly-disguised parallel for Sam’s lost relationship with Josh, but truth be told, Quentin needs Sam’s guidance and friendship even more than Sam needs him.

Laurence Fishburne’s music store owner says at one point, “It’s great, what you’re doing for that boy.” and it has to be said although only in this movie in a supporting role Fishburne’s Del is a likeable old man whose passion is clearly music and really gives a good grounding and guidance for both Sam and Quentin. Billy Crudup as Sam was excellent to watch. It was emotional witnessing how he dealt with something that he could not deal with and the scenes where he would go into self destruction mode really hit home. Yelchin as Quentin was brilliant and a joy to watch. Quentin was the relatable character in this movie and where Yelchin brought the movie, Crudup brought the emotion.

Selena Gomez plays Kate whose role in the movie like Laurence Fishburne’s is limited and is only there to reveal Sam’s secret to the band before they were set to play a big gig they regarded would get them noticed. Kate was Josh’s girlfriend and was briefly shown at the beginning of the movie shortly after his death and we understand that the last few years since his passing have been tough on her, Gomez is slightly different from when we first saw her to two years down the line who is angry and bitter towards her involvement with Sam’s family and doesn’t feel it is right that he is portraying those songs and passing them off as his own.

William H Macy makes his directorial debut in Rudderless and appears in a small role as the bar owner does a superb job of capturing the spirit and emotions of the main characters and keeps the movie running along at a nice pace with very few if any pointless scenes or dialogue. His vision for the live music scenes were clever in the techniques he used to reveal the band’s increasing interest in the facial reactions from a couple of folk in the bar taking notice to a full house hanging on to every lyric sang.

Rudderless is an uplifting and emotional first directorial from William H Macy and he really should be congratulated for making a truly excellent film. The acting was superb. The story line is interesting and unpredictable. The music is beautifully haunting. I’m glad a was able to catch Rudderless and feel this movie is one I will go back to one day.

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