Thursday, October 16, 2014

“Rudderless”– Movie Review


This week in my movie class, we saw “Rudderless”, a drama with Billy Crudup and Selena Gomez and Directed by William H. Macy.


When a man drops out of society after his son dies, he discovers the boy’s collection of music – but once he starts performing his son’s songs publicly, will this prove therapeutic or only serve to make his life even worse?


Sam (Crudup) is hit with the news that his son Josh tragically died as the result of a shooting at his college.  Inconsolable, he self-medicates by binge-drinking, then quits his high-powered job as an advertising executive and moves out of his fancy house. Two years later, Sam lands a job as a house painter and winds up living on a boat.  After a while, he is found by Emily (Felicity Huffman), his ex-wife, who drops off some of Josh’s belongings – a bunch of music Josh composed and CD’s on which Josh recorded the performance of his own material. 

Sam starts listening to Josh’s recordings and is surprised to discover that his son was an extremely talented musician.  Inspired, Sam learns the boy’s songs and begins performing them before an audience at a local bar.  One night, Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a young man who would’ve been a contemporary of Josh’s, hears one of the songs and is impressed; he invites Sam to join a band made up of some of Quentin’s friends and together, the group performs the collection of songs.  Now known as Rudderless, the band becomes so popular that they are hired to perform regularly at the bar; word spreads and soon the bar is filled with their new-found fans. 

When news of the band’s popularity gets out, Sam is visited by Kate (Gomez), Josh’s ex-girlfriend; she confronts Sam, infuriated he’s performing his son’s songs while passing them off as his own.  Angered at Sam’s deceit, Kate reveals Sam’s secret to the band, forcing Sam to leave the group.  Quentin and Sam are both at a loss; the band revived Quentin’s love of music while also providing Sam with some closure about the loss of his son.  With the two men now unable to act as each other’s emotional support system, will they wind up with unfulfilled lives or can they make something positive from this?


Let’s just get this out of the way: An event occurs well into “Rudderless” – around the end of the second act – that alters the audience’s perception of certain characters and drastically changes the overall tone of the story. The above story description assiduously avoided including it to be spoiler-free; an earnest attempt is made to balance this against providing sufficient detail about the story. While other reviews may wind up including that “spoiler”, it does something of a disservice to people considering seeing the picture: it unnecessarily influences the experience of viewing the movie.

Writing about “Rudderless” while side-stepping that significant plot point may be a bit difficult since it directly impacts the review. When the movie does this big reveal so late, it is intentionally trying to pull a fast one; the way in which it does so is rather manipulative, to the point where the audience can feel understandably resentful for being sucked-in by the filmmakers. Why not provide the information up front? One possible answer is that they did not have enough faith in the material being presented in a more straightforward manner, so a better dramatic impact would be to pull the rug out from under the viewers.

Upon watching “Rudderless”, it may not be unreasonable for a viewer to feel a sense of betrayal by the filmmakers; a contract between them and the audience has been broken because the time and emotional investment in the movie has been misspent – while you may start out rooting for certain characters, you realize approximately two thirds of the way through the story that you may have made an egregious mistake. Everyone – not just the filmmakers, but the characters in the story – knew you were making that mistake all along and kept you in the dark until the last possible moment.

Rudderless (2014) on IMDb

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