Rudderless

This movie has the production value of a Canadian television show, and you know that ain’t no compliment. It looks terrible. I stuck with it though, mainly on the strength of Luc’s recommendation, and I’m glad I did.

This is William H. Macy’s directorial debut and in it, we see a young college student working on songs, and doing some rough recording in his dorm room. Cut to: a father (Billy Crudup), stood up in a pub, catches news footage on TV of a school shooting. His son is dead. The grief is overwhelming.rudderless

Two years later, Sam\Crudup is hiding from his trouble, he’s lost his home and job and is fairly miserable, but when his ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) drops off a box of CDs, he has a new connection and new insight to the son who is lost to him, and it helps him work through his grief and loneliness and guilt. He starts playing the songs himself, and at an open mic night, he attracts the attention of Quentin (Anton Yelchin), who is needy for creative inspiration and collaboration. He hounds Sam until the two start working together on the music, and soon they have themselves a band, and a following.

The catch? Sam never tells Quentin that these songs belong to his dead son. So they forge a bond that looks and feels an awful lot like father-son but there’s a big, bad secret between them. Crudup does a really good job of showing both the yearning for a lost son and the desire for a new life. His heartache is there in silences and shadows. Yelchin, conversely, is a nervous energy, kinetic and wanting. I end up enjoying him in pretty much everything and I’m surprised he hasn’t really blown up yet. I don’t know if there’s another actor his age with anywhere near the range and depth and subtlety.

The real star of the movie is the music. If this is where the budget went, then it was worth it, and fuck the shitty look of the thing and the glaring anachronisms. The music is really that good. Credited to Simon Steadman, Charlton Steadman and Fink, the songs are ably performed and it makes you wish Macy lingered on the band’s success just a little longer. Crudup’s guitar does the (gentle?)  weeping for him, and it’s beautiful, though maybe not quite enough for the enormity of the grief.

The story bites off more than it can chew and we never get enough context to really appreciate all the layers that are happening here. The movie’s to concerned with the gotcha aspect and not concerned enough with our emotional payoff. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the two actors, I enjoyed that they seem to have done their own singing, I loved the music, and I liked that as the credits rolled I found myself wondering – how much can we really know someone through their art?

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