HTS Overall Score:
Movies like “Rudderless” is one of the reasons that I do this job. Finding those rare gems out there that come out of nowhere and leave you in awe. I heard about “Rudderless” almost a year ago when I read that William H. Macy was making his directorial debut. I’ve loved his body of works over the years as an actor and was really excited to see him focusing some work BEHIND the camera for a change. Fresh blood in the water is always a good thing and the cast assigned to the project is stunning to say the least. Billy Crudup is an under rated actor that is able to do so much with so little, and with cameos by Laurence Fishbourne and William H. Macy himself as the bar owner had me hooked. “Rudderless” turns out to be a NEAR masterpiece that is hampered only by a small hiccup in the transition period of the 3rd act reveal that just keeps it from 100% perfection.
Sam (Billy Crudup) is on top of the world. He’s a rich executive with a beautiful wife, a handsome son in college and an incredible mansion. This all comes crashing to the ground when his son ends up dead after a school shooting the day he was to meet Sam for a celebration lunch. Spiraling out of control, Sam goes from king of the world, to living in sheer agony, drinking his life away as the press haunt him and the memory of his dead boy crushing his soul. Fast forward a few years and not much has changed. Sam is still drinking his problem away, hiding out in a small fishing boat on the lake and working as a blue collar worker. When his ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) brings by some of his son Josh’s belongings it’s almost too much, but that single incident sparks a turning point in Sam’s life. Listening to his dead son’s songs that he recorded during college and reading the lyrics of from his music diary starts to give Sam some sort of outlet.
This outlet turns into full blown therapy for Sam as he starts to perform the songs at a local bar (owned by William H. Macy in his little directoral cameo) and attracts the attention of a young musician named Quentin (Anton Yelchin) takes an interest in lovely songs that Sam sings. There is a bit of cliché going on here as the socially awkward boy and the reclusive and grumpy man have a back and forth relationship as Quentin tries to get Sam to come out of his shell and jam with him. Soon the pair form a bond that starts to heal them both. Sam from his pain of losing his son, and Quentin gets a father figure in a life that has been absent of one for nearly his entire life. With the formation of a band, Quentin and Sam’s spotlight only grows brighter and threatens to make them happy people once again, but a twist in the third act reveals something deeper going on and drastically changes the two’s relationship as well as opening up the floor for more questions on people’s roles in death.
I honestly can’t go any further into the third act without giving away the plot twist and that twist is much better experienced than spilled in spoilers here. There is a lot I could go into, especially considering Sam’s experience as a grieving father and how it affects him, but any discussion of that dichotomy will ruin the twist for new viewers of the film. As such I’ll have to restrain myself, but what I CAN say, is that the film is utterly fantastic. I was in awe during the first act and my delight only grew as the story unfolds. Billy Crudup owns the role of Sam, giving him a depth that makes the drunken man not only pitiable, but relatable and admirable too. The subtle nuances in the way he plays Sam is intoxicating as it only makes you enjoy the character more, flaws and all. I didn’t expect Anton Yelchin to pull this one off, as the socially awkward boy with problems just doesn’t seem to be his forte, but he does so admirably, making you chuckle and roll your eyes (intentionally) every time the little goof is onscreen. I wasn’t so sure about Selena Gomez playing the role of Josh’s girlfriend that he left behind, but thankfully her role is really limited and she’s only on screen a few minutes. Laurence Fishbourne is actually my second favorite character in the movie as the music shop owner, and even though he’s only got about 15 minutes of screen time, he steals those 15 minutes away.
There are a few problems in the film, mainly with the way the 2nd and 3rd act transition as the twist is revealed. It seems a little awkward as the character during the beginning of the movie, and the character portrayed during the reveal just don’t seem to add up. It feels like the surprise comes TOO fast and the handoff of the baton gets fumbled along the way and the third act tries to catch up too fast. It in no way ruins the movie, as the third act reveal is incredibly powerful, opening up entirely new questions about grief and Sam’s role in that grief. I had my jaw hanging on the floor after that reveal and was seriously impressed with and understood why Billy Crudup’s character did what he did. While the handoff of the reveal is a bit awkward and shows Macy’s newness to the director’s seat, it only keeps the movie from absolute perfection, in my opinion, and downgrades it to REALLY well done.
Rated R for language
“Rudderless” unfortunately doesn’t come to home video as a Blu-ray release, but only as a standard definition DVD, and while that is regrettable the film looks excellent with the 480 lines of resolution available. Colors are bright and cheery, almost a bit too bright during some of the outdoor scenes, and add a nice rustic tone to the movie. Sam’s shift from the glitzy glamour of his rich lifestyle to the blue collar, unshaven man he becomes showcases a subtle shift of color tone and contrast level. Before, everything is sleek, shiny and filled with dark blues and blacks. As he changes careers and lifestyles the colors become softer, filled with more whites, rustic blues, and greys, giving it a more “country” feel to the style. Detail level is strong throughout, giving us plenty of aw worthy moments for a DVD. There’s some softness and a little bit of crushed blacks, but that’s to be expected of a DVD release and doesn’t hamper the film at all. Excellent all around.
The 448kpbs 5.1 Dolby Digital track is about as good as it’s going to get, with a heavily dramatic movie. Its main focus is right up there in the front of the stage, with some great vocal representation and some solid directionality queues for the music. Dynamic range is strong, without being overbearing, and when the track’s musical numbers kick up (which is quite often) it adds some serious life to the surrounds. The movie uses music as a medium for healing, and as such there is just about as much music being played as dialogue time, so the track isn’t as front heavy as one would expect, especially with the concert pieces. The LFE track isn’t a wile pules pounder, but adds a nice layer of depth and weight to the musical numbers, adding some tight and punchy bass to the low end. Very solid, and well worth the listen, if only for the music.
• Hear This Song
• "Hold On" Music Video with Selena Gomez and Ben Kweller
• Deleted Scenes
“Rudderless” is a fantastic debut for William H. Macy behind the camera, and I only can hope that this is only the start for him on his way up the ladder. I laughed, I cried, I loved every minute of the film and can’t recommend it enough. It’s raw, it’s sweet and it’s got enough onion layers to satisfy a film fan’s dramatic cravings easily enough. The disc may not be a Blu-ray, but do not in any way hold that against the film, as it’s well worth owning even on standard DVD. Must Watch
Starring: Billy Crudup, Selena Gomez, Anton Yelchin
Directed By: William H. Macy
Written By: Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Mpeg2
Audio: ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 105 Minutes
DVD Release Date: January 20th 2015
Buy Rudderless On DVD at Amazon
Recommendation: Must Watch
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