Rudderless movie full length review - An uplifting and inspirational directorial debut from William H. Macy.
Sam (Billy Crudup) is a fast-talking, fast-living advertising exec, whose busy schedule and constant wheeling-and-dealing resulted in the dissolution of his marriage.
He still has a good relationship with his college-age son, Josh, but when a campus shooting incident claims the boy's life, Sam copes with the tragedy by drinking away his job, his car, and his condo.
Fast forward a couple of years, and Sam is living on a houseboat docked a few hours away from his hometown, painting houses and drinking away his days on a seemingly infinite bender. The cycle is interrupted by the sudden appearance of his ex-wife (Felicity Huffman), who unloads Josh's old guitar and a box of demo recordings - music was always "Josh and Sam's thing," and she needs the reminders out of the house before she's able to move on.
Listening to Josh's songs and thumbing through journals full of lyrics, Sam finds himself with an understanding of his late son that he never had when the boy was alive. He begins learning to play each of the tunes, and feels compelled to pop in for an open mic night at the local watering hole and try one of Josh's songs in front of an audience. This catches the attention of Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a fidgety, socially awkward musician who connects with the haunted quality of the songwriting and convinces Sam to form a band.
Sam reluctantly agrees, never admitting that he didn't actually write any of the material, and what begins as a duo quickly transforms into a four-piece that includes a pair of Yelchin's fellow collaborators (played by real-life indie musicians Ben Kweller and Ryan Dean). Christened "Rudderless," the band begins to garner a strong local following 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.
Crudup gives his best performance since Almost Famous, even channeling Russell Hammond in a few of the music sequences, but it's his chemistry with Yelchin that drives the film. 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. As Laurence Fishburne's ultra-hip music store owner says at one point, "It's great, what you're doing for that boy."
Marking the directorial debut of William H. Macy, who also appears in a minor role as a bar owner, Rudderless spends its first two acts as a rousing, feel-good affair about discovering (or in Sam's case, rediscovering) passion and purpose. The original songs from Simon Steadman, Charlton Pettus, and Ben Limpic are incredibly catchy, and Macy does a superb job of filming the live performances, imparting several clever techniques that showcase the band's increasing popularity.
But he also handles the weightier, more emotional moments just as deftly, including a startling revelation at the beginning of the third act that forces the audience to completely re-evaluate their feelings about Sam's decisions. The jarring shift in tone may lose some audience members who feel that Macy is stretching the script's credibility, but most will likely understand the intent behind such a choice. But even with the abrupt left turn, Rudderless remains an uplifting and emotional first outing from Macy, and one of my favorite films of the year.