Oklahoma natives Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison wrote the script for Rudderless years ago and have been trying to get it made ever since. They even took a chance on trying to cast William H. Macy in the movie, and it was that effort that helped the duo strike gold. According to the writers, they called Macy’s agent and somehow lucked out into getting him on the phone. Not wanting to blow the chance, they rapid fire pitched the movie to him and he said that he would speak to Macy about the movie.
In 2014, Rudderless hit theaters thanks in large part to that phone call because William H. Macy didn’t only accept a small role in the movie, but he agreed to direct it as his directorial feature debut. The movie was not only a solid debut for the long-time actor, but was a movie that seemed to hit all the right notes in a very difficult story.
Billy Crudup stars as Sam, an advertising executive who just made a huge pitch on the same day that he learned that his son died in a tragic school shooting at a university. Both he and his ex-wife Emily (Felicity Huffman) deal with this loss in very different ways. Emily’s way of dealing with the loss of her son was much more constructive than Sam’s. Sam became an alcoholic, lost his job and ended up living on a boat at the lake.
Honestly, there are small problems with the movie and they are usually in the fact that the script makes things happen, instead of allowing them to just transpire organically through the script. This can be forgiven because the performances in this movie are spectacular.
According to Twenter and Robison, Crudup took a character they created and drove him in a completely different direction, creating something they never expected. They had nothing but praise for the work of Crudup, and they had every reason to be proud. He started out the movie as a cocksure salesman and then became a loser, someone who no longer had a direction in his life, and someone who just seemed to be floating around until it was time to move on.
Luckily for him, he found his saving grace. Emily showed up and brought him the music that his son made as well as his guitar and amp, saying that music was always their thing. At first Sam wanted nothing to do with it, but soon he brought it aboard and started to realize that his son was a very talented songwriter before his death. He started to practice his son’s songs and then went to perform one at an open mic night at a bar owned by William H. Macy’s Trill.
It is here that a young musician, from a very troubled childhood, hears him playing and approaches him. Over his short career, Anton Yelchin has become one of cinemas most talented, yet under-looked, actors and he is fantastic as the motor-mouthed, insecure Quentin in this movie. It is these two characters, one broken and the other lost, that help each other realize their fate.
At the end of the day, this is a father-son story, but instead of being about Sam and his lost son, it is about Sam and Quentin, a boy who never had the father to look up to until Sam came along. Things may not work out the way the audience expects them to, but that is the beauty of this film. Rudderless is not a movie that slaps on a sugar-coated happy ending, and it might be one that brings some real tears, but it is also one that rings true in the end.
The movie also plays strongly with the music, written by Charlton Pettus and Simon Steadman. The songs are really good and helps tell the story of Sam’s son. The scenes with Sam singing his son’s songs really helps a father learn what might have been going through his son’s mind in the final days of his life. The music needed to be strong to carry this movie, and the songs succeeded on every level.
Rudderless is a movie that has an interesting premise, and a very daring one as well. There were so many places that this movie could have fallen apart. It succeeds by the end as having more heart than so many movies with bigger budgets and that is where this film remains a true winner. Thanks to superb performances by Crudup and Yelchin, as well as a fantastic supporting turn from Lawrence Fishburne as the owner of a music store, Rudderless is a movie that deserves every accolade it receives.