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Sundance Review: 'Rudderless' Is A Remarkable Directorial Debut From William H. Macy

by Chase Whale
January 24, 2014 2:45 PM
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So let it be known throughout the land: William H. Macy has balls of steel. In addition to juggling a busy, successful film and television career, he’s taken on a new role—filmmaker. His first feature film, “Rudderless,” is a poignant story that explores finding happiness in the midst of loss and pain. And you know what? It’s really damn good.

“Rudderless” follows the wonderful, horrible life of Sam (Billy Crudup), a successful advertising executive whose life is shaken up when his son is killed in a horrible college shooting tragedy. Sam isn’t coping with this well—his life now revolves around microwave pizza and hitting the bottle hard; fast forward a few years later and Sam is living on a boat and making money by painting houses for a contractor. He’s sobered up and just trying to live his life as best as he can. While going through the remainder of his son’s possessions, Sam stumbles across music his son made in the time leading up to the shootings. As a former musician himself, Sam works out his angst by learning his son’s songs and playing them. Soon after, he finds it therapeutic to play these songs at a local bar. But when a young musician (Anton Yelchin) finds this music intoxicating, the two team up and start a band (with Ben Kweller!), changing their lives forever.

You’re probably thinking the movie sounds odd or inconsiderate—school shootings are a very sensitive subject and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But at the heart of “Rudderless” is a story about moving on; at a certain point, dwelling on the past becomes poisonous. On the other end of the spectrum from films like “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” “Elephant”, and other films with school violence at the center—"Rudderless" is about really, truly moving forward with your life and doing your best not to focus on the past. Sam doesn’t want to become a famous musician, he doesn’t want to forget about his son and pretend nothing ever happened, he just wants to find a way to carry on. No parent ever wants to be the father or mother of a child who takes the lives of others, but that possibility lingers ever more prominently as violence increases in the world around us.

Sam is the type of person who makes friends one year only to lose them the next. A guy who manages to keep his ragged and uncouth confidence, no matter what emotional state he’s in, which makes Crudup the perfect fit, carrying arrogance and confidence together with sincerity. Crudup’s Sam is a coward for not dealing with his son’s brutal and tragic ending, but he’s filled with more hurt than he can process and his healing begins when his regret ends. And yes, you Selenators, Selena Gomez does have a pivotal role in the film and is great, showing plenty of potential for becoming a leading lady one day.

“Rudderless” is a very impressive directorial debut from the acclaimed Macy. Not a coming-of-age or let-the-tears-fly movie with a Sigur Ros-filled soundtrack—it’s a fairly easy-to-digest look at how to cope, before worse becomes intolerable. Any movie dealing with such heartbreaking violence is going to rattle your soul, but it’s about how the filmmaker tenderly dismantles the story, and shows us so much more. It’s an ambitious and strong first start for Macy’s filmmaking career as he’s clearly taken a note or two from some of the great filmmakers he’s worked for. Don’t let the title of this film fool you—“Rudderless” is solid. [B]

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  • NewYorker | January 27, 2014 7:27 PMReply

    my favorite william h macy role is defently as Frank Gallagher on Shameless. funny that him and his shameless co/star Cameron Monaghan both have a film over sundance.
    Monaghan got a film call jimmy mark is dead playing over there.

  • Dan | January 25, 2014 2:52 AMReply

    I saw this at sundance tonight, other reviews and media left the plot twist out, not only did you mention it, but led with it. Don't ruin peoples $12 investment...please edit

  • Andrew | January 26, 2014 11:26 PM

    Quote from the John DeFore's review in USA Today:

    "A truly arresting third-act twist deepens the film in ways that can't be discussed here."

    But Chase Whale clearly knows best...he's apparently the only person to review the movie and not think there's a twist. Guy must be brilliant.

  • Chase | January 25, 2014 3:23 PM

    Hi Dan -- there's not a plot twist in this film, but it's been updated so people's lives aren't ruined with their $12 investment. I hope you can now sleep at night.

  • Chase | January 25, 2014 12:42 AMReply

    Oh, and please link me where it says he "dies in a school shooting."

  • Chase | January 25, 2014 12:41 AMReply

    lol - it's not a spoiler. You must lack common sense. His son shooting up the school has nothing to do with the heart of the film. Nothing.

    Pull your head out and stop trying to be an Internet Hero.

  • Bebo | January 24, 2014 8:57 PMReply

    You might want to announce that your review contains a pretty big spoil alert.

  • Chase Whale | January 24, 2014 9:19 PM

    What's the spoiler alert? That his son kills students which is listed in the official synopsis?

  • Willy | January 24, 2014 8:55 PMReply

    Filmed in Oklahoma! Great place to make a film!

  • LALA | January 24, 2014 10:34 PM

    where exactly, in the official synopsis, says is his son the one who kills the students?

  • Samson | January 24, 2014 5:56 PMReply

    I wonder, is the title a reference at all to the Lemonheads song of the same name? I only wonder because the film deals with music as a story arc.

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