“…in those moments when it finds its direction and steers straight, it shines brilliantly.”
Review (text version)
We’ve all experienced it… we see a good film but there are a couple of elements that seem out of place, or just kinda clunky in an otherwise very cogent effort… and there we are cheering it on… be great, we want you to be great… oh, don’t do the obvious thing… don’t go pedestrian on me…
What could have been a four star movie we subconsciously demote. In the case of Rudderless, it teeters on the brink of a fall quite a few times, but in those moments when it finds its direction and steers straight, it shines brilliantly.
Actor William H. Macy – has been entertaining us for decades in films like – Fargo, Pleasantville, Mystery Men and the US copy of the British TV series Shameless, very often providing a lift to an otherwise under performing movie. Here his role is small but he takes on a bigger task – lending a hand in polishing the script and directing the film.
And there’s a lot of responsibility on on his shoulders with this delicate tale about loss and the often very long and bumpy road to healing.
Billy Crudup plays Sam, an advertising suit who clearly makes a lot of money helping other people in suits sell things to people who probably can’t afford suits.
He arranges to meet his amateur song writing College Student son to celebrate a big dollar deal but the son doesn’t arrive.
Dad’s a bit annoyed but then discovers why Junior was a no show. The reason? A mass shooting on a College Campus.
Cue Sam’s not coping and “downward spiraling life montage” with too much drinking and kitchen sink full of dirty dishes… you get the idea… leads to Sam dropping out and living on a boat, not wearing suits and significantly lowering his personal grooming standards.
To this point the film has felt pretty ordinary, in fact a tad cliched, but Sam’s rudderless existence is lifted out of tele-movie of the week territory and into a very respectable, thoughtful, mid-shelf indi space.
They say in classic story telling the hero has to reach his lowest point to be able to change… and the catalyst for Sam’s change comes in the form of a box of demo recordings – songs made by his son.
Sam begins playing some songs at a local bar’s “open mic night” where he is spotted by a quiet young man, Quentin, played by Anton Yelchin. Quentin suggests Sam expands his solo act to a duo… and then even a little more. Why? He sees great value in the songs Sam is performing.
I’ve read some comments that suggest Rudderless looses it’s direction in the middle act but I disagree entirely – I find this middle act of the film the most engaging… And the most real… from the point Sam and Quentin meet I’m on a journey of discovery, totally in the moment, WITH these guys, transcending the earlier part of the film where I was just sort of passively observing and being fed the set-up.
The developing relationship between the emotionally scattered Sam and the introspective Quentin is beautifully played. Yelchin, in particular, is an delight and we begin to see Crudup come into his stride as a caring side of Sam emerges and Quentin becomes, at times, a sort of surrogate son to Sam.
The scene where he tries to give Quentin a hairstyle makeover and some advice on picking up girls is both funny and totally believable.
Yelchin’s death, in a freak accident just a few months ago, was untimely. He proves in Rudderless that he was actor of depth and skill. Sadly missed.
The original songs… They are great… and I had the soundtrack on my i-pod playing on loop for two weeks!
The bulk of the song material is written by Simon Steadman, Charlton Pettus, are tuneful with intelligent lyrics that cleverly relate to the developing character relationships… There are even a few hints about a big secret in the plot that you likely won’t pick up on a first viewing, and that’s fine, just go along for the ride, but a second time around you might spot the easter eggs in the song lyrics.
Just to clarify, it’s not like a musical where the characters spontaneously burst into song to express their thoughts and feelings, the songs are what the band performs, but having this additional layer of comment and insight, via the lyrics, gives the music a real purpose, operating on two levels.
The fact that the band really are the guys you see on screen – that’s them playing and singing and this is a huge plus. The bass player “Willie” is in fact indi music maker Ben Kweller who has a couple of really nice moments of friction – the millennial muso clashing gently with the old greying guy.
Now please, don’t watch the film on an Airplane or an i-pad. Show some respect to the audio engineer’s efforts – listen to this on a decent sound system and crank that sub woofer up an extra notch. When the drums kick in on a couple of the numbers you really can become immersed in the band’s music… I liked the music so much I wanted to find out where they were playing their next gig and get a prime spot in the mosh pit!
Now, I did mention there were bumpy bits that, to me, diminished a potentially great film, and if you want to argue these points, once you see the movie, bring it on… but this is where you need to stop if you haven’t seen the film.
NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD Stop here if you ave not seen the film.
My main disappointment is the character played by Selena Gomez. She pops up four times, three of them basically providing an information dump then disappears until her next scheduled information dump. I wanted to see the character integrated into the film rather than just appearing like the Ghost of Christmas Past to be an annoyance to Sam.
The big “ooh ahh” reveal moment at the mid point, regarding the Son, is it all trick-or-treatability and a little ingenuine? To be debated by those who have seen the film.
Laurence Fishburne’s character, the music shop owner, feels like a clumsy convenience for some green guitar plot developments that feel often perfunctory and mechanical.
Then there’s the ending, the, “Lets wrap it all up in a visual montage where everyone gets what they want”… I was thinking, “No, don’t go there! This film is potentially much, much, better than a pat ending wrapped up in a cheesy bow!” but you know what? It works really, really well and it’s not an avalanche of cheap sentiment at all.
By the end has Sam found his salvation through truth and music? How many steps closer is he to finding his very personal Nirvana?
“Take a breath and count the stars.
Let the world go round without you.
If you’re somewhere you can hear this song
(review text © Greg Punch, 2017)
Review production company:
Reference Blu-ray copy of film used for this review:
Distributed by Radiance Films International
© 2013 Rudderless Productions
Tee Rob Pictures
Dog Pond Productions
Toy Gun Films
Film Distributed by:
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Wiliam H. Macy
William H Macy
Photo of William H Macy taken on the set of “Rudderless”
(see “Copyright and Fair Use” below)
Image of Anton Yelchin is a freeze frame from the film “Rudderless”.
Freeze frames / video clips / audio clips are taken directly from the Blu Ray copy of the film and / or officially released trailer / promotional video of the film
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Posters / promotional images (see “Copyright and Fair Use” below)
Music – opener / closer:
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
“Danse Macabre – Big Hit 1”
Licensed under Creative Commons:
By Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
Other music heard in this review is from the film’s sountrack:
Eef Barzelay, Rudderless (the band),Simon Steadman, Charlton Pettus
An informative interview with William H Macy:
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