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 teenage son shoots six students at his college, and takes his own life. 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]