(older movie reviews with a new coat of paint)
Few films can go to dark places and resist becoming melodramatic or weighing down a viewer in the process. William H. Macy’s directorial debut(he also co-wrote the script with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison) stays balanced by pulling the best work from Billy Crudup in years and infusing the viewer with great music to produce a part bleak part uplifting take on the healing power of music.
Crudup plays Sam, a successful businessman who calls his kid after a big deal goes through and wants to meet him for lunch, college work be damned. When the kid doesn’t show up. Sam happens to see a television with a school shooting on it and that’s all we get before seeing Sam spiral out. We see him next on a boat working manual labor and keeping to himself. It’s not until his ex-wife(played well by Macy’s wife Felicty Huffman) that Sam starts to come back to life. She gives him his son’s books of music lyrics and demo tapes.
Everything starts to roll along after this into a pleasant movie experience about music when Sam meets a young musician named Quentin(played with energy and depth by Anton Yelchin) who reminds him of his son. A local music shop owner played by Laurence Fishburne has a nice supporting role and Macy has a small role as the owner of the place where the music happens. A band forms, friendship occurs and the movie is thriving on this note because the songs(played by Crudup and Yelchin along with real life musician Ben Dweller) are very good and catchy. They are convincing as a band(carrying the film’s title, which happens to be a kickass name by the way) and the middle of the film soars. Then, a huge plot twist pulls the rug out from under the viewer and sends the film into some darker territory. Watching the film, the twist isn’t abrupt but one could sense the other shoe slowly dropping.
The magic here is that this particular twist doesn’t hurt the film at all. Macy’s tale doesn’t fall because the actors and writing(kudos on the third act twist that came out of nowhere) doesn’t dip into sentimental gloss and stays true to the story and the foundations that were set in the beginning. The music is strong, the acting is honest and the movie just gets better. Once again, a rarity in cinema today is a film firing this kind of rocket at a viewer in a nostalgic easy going film and ascending instead of crashing.
The film hinges on Crudup and the veteran actor delivers a truly innovative performance. The second I hear “Crudup” and “a film about music”, Almost Famous came to mind and I was in. Crudup doesn’t disappoint. He does his own singing and guitar work and the role here comes natural to him. A man coming to terms with a horrible tragedy that carries many layers by finding a garage and creating these songs. Music can heal the soul in uncompromising ways and Rudderless is a fine testament to that notion.
The movie doesn’t play out in conventional fashion and the last scene is quiet, understated and lets the acting of Crudup and the song he sings carry the viewer home just right. In the wrong hands, this script could have gone painfully wrong. With Macy and Crudup guiding the ship of misguided rockers, Rudderless is an inside the park home run.
*Rent Rudderless on Redbox or find it on demand. I highly recommend the soundtrack as well. Alternative music with a singer-songwriter fine rust attached to it.