Saturday movie review: Rudderless

A lot of actors seem to think that because they act, they can direct. Every once in a while, they're perfectly correct and prove to have what it takes to combine a heartfelt and well-written script, spectacular performances from top-notch actors, a spot-on soundtrack, and all the other necessary ingredients to make a beautiful, memorable film.

William H. Macy's directorial debut, RUDDERLESS, unquestionably lands him in that category of actors who turn out to be awesome directors.

rudderless movie

RUDDERLESS stars Billy Crudup, Anton Yeltchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fishbourne, and in a brief yet prominent role, Miles Heizer (Drew from Parenthood). Crudup plays Sam, whose son (Heizer) dies tragically. Huffman is his ex-wife, Emily. The death of their son sends Sam, a former successful ad executive, into freefall and he escapes by leaving his job, living on a boat, and spending his days on housepainting odd jobs. Until he comes across a notebook of song lyrics and his son's CDs of the music.

Sam becomes entranced by his son's work and ends up performing one of the songs for open mic night at a small club (managed by Macy's character, Trill). Quentin (Yelchin) is in the crowd and basically stalks Sam until Sam agrees to perform with him and the soon-to-be-created band, Rudderless.


The script (co-written by Macy) touches on loss, forgiveness, redemption. The performances seemed honest and true, perfectly poignant. Especially Crudup's. And Huffman's. Yelchin, though, seemed a tad over earnest, although that just may be the way he is, as I felt the same about his performance in 5 TO 7, which I saw as part of the Starz Denver Film Festival.

The music is central to the story, of course, and it's all exceptionally moving and well performed by each of the musicians/actors (yes, even Yelchin). Crudup's understated singing and guitar playing (which, I'm sure, was really him on both counts) underscored his pain and attempt to come to some degree of acceptance of the tragic circumstances surrounding his son's death.

That said, there's a twist to the story about two-thirds of the way through that left me conflicted on whether Crudup's character deserves sympathy or if he's just an asshole. The same can be said of another character, though I can't reveal whom as that gives away the twist. Days after watching RUDDERLESS, I'm still considering which it is for both characters. That, to me, is the sign of a great movie: It makes you think, makes you question your assumptions. RUDDERLESS did exactly that—with a heart-stirring soundtrack to boot.

A brief featurette on William H. Macy's directing debut:



RUDDERLESS (rated R for language) closed out the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on DVD and streaming. Find out more on the film's official website.