By this point in this year, I usually would reserve my praise for a film until the end-of-the-year picks for Jay's and my “Top Films” of the year article. However, after viewing the directorial debut from actor William H. Macy, Rudderless, I can’t withhold such a truly great film from moviegoers any longer! I have not seen such a wonderful, well-crafted film and story centered around music since 2007’s Once. In the film, Sam (Billy Crudup) is a successful advertising executive who is driven and addicted to his job, but loves his son, Josh (Miles Heizer). When tragedy strikes in the form of Josh’s untimely death, Sam is left heartbroken and lost. And, in the usual plot device of these types of films, Sam spends most of his nights in a drunken haze, trying to escape and hide from a past too heart-wrenching to face.
When his ex-wife, Emily (Felicity Huffman), gives Josh’s music recordings to Sam, Sam takes a trip to the local bar and drunkenly performs one of the songs (“Home”) before a small crowd. The next morning, a young local timid musician named Quentin (Anton Yelchin), impressed by Sam’s song, visits him to try and convince him to play more of Sam’s songs together. Sam reluctantly agrees and the two become a local hit. However, there is more to the story. I could tell you what more there is, but that would be robbing the audience of experiencing the importance of the story themselves. What I can say is that this film (and story) has a lasting effect on the viewer; well, it did on this viewer, anyways! It makes you question people’s (and maybe your own) preconceived notions of judging others.
|Sam (Billy Crudup) sings one of his late son's songs to try and find a way of connecting to him.|
The beauty of the story is that it starts off somewhat predictable and light, but then turns into something all the more dire, and the way this aspect is revealed within the film is well done by Macy, who may have a future as a director. The story is a testament to the healing and uniting power of music, and it entices the viewer to want to see how the story of these two misfits will turn out. The acting is very impressive – particularly from Crudup, who proves here why he is one of the best underrated actors today and why he was so damn likeable in the 2000 hit Almost Famous. Yelchin also wows as Quentin, and Huffman takes a role which is small in terms of screen appearance but is paramount to the film, nonetheless. I was not impressed with Selena Gomez as Kate, and felt that any no-name actress could have played that part; although the role is important to the story, I felt like having Gomez play the part was merely a chance to have a noticeable celebrity name on the bill.
|The band Rudderless (l. to r.: Ben Kweller, Crudup, Anton Yelchin; and foreground drummer: Ryan Dean) soon become a local hit with the songs from Sam's son.|
Of course, in a film that revolves around music, it is detrimental to the film to have great music, and Rudderless does that in spades. From the original score by Eef Barzelay to the original music as performed by the band Rudderless (consisting of Crudup, Yelchin, Ryan Dean, and real professional musician Ben Kweller), written by Charlton Pettus and Simon Steadman. Songs such as “Stay With You” (featured in the trailer), “Over Your Shoulder,” and “Sing Along” are better than anything I’ve heard on contemporary mainstream radio! The lyrics to the songs also correlate to the plot as Quentin becomes more confident and Sam sings the song as catharsis to deal with the loss of his son.
Rudderless is in select theaters now and available to rent or purchase through iTunes and Amazon Instant, which means it most likely will not be noticed this year, it won’t win any awards, and it will hardly be noticed by movie audiences. In fact, I doubt most people who see the post of this review won't read it simply because they haven't seen it advertised on TV a thousand times or because they "don't know what it's about" ... because it's not based on a book, “true life” story, cartoon, comic book, toy, video game, etc. (which most major-released films are these days). And that is a real shame because I would take one Rudderless over ten Transformers Part 4s or twenty Hunger Games! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Sometimes, the best films are the ones where the story is rather seemingly simplistic. In other words, less is more. The original story of Rudderless – no matter how simplistic – is a more welcomed cinematic work in today’s age when all the major film releases that seem to be made are sequels, remakes, and adaptations (as previously mentioned). As this film critic gets older and takes in all the cinema he can (clocking in over 2,700 films), it’s difficult to impress me much nowadays as the films of today’s stories all seem to be knock-offs of other films made 10, 20, 30, 40, even 50 years ago. I hate to admit that I’ve grown rather cynical with mainstream cinema, even though I love my comic book adaptations (as long as they’re good) as much as the next film- and comic book-geek. But with films like Rudderless, there is proof that there are still filmmakers out there whose material can impress a cynic by having great, original material, just yearning to be watched … just so long as it can find an audience. And I’m more than happy to be that cynic who makes that discovery. While the end of Rudderless is not some major revelation or epic closure, what is revealed is one man’s awakening to a journey he had to take and it's that small, simplistic journey the viewer is privy to which definitely makes this one of the best films of the year … if not, at least, of the past five years!