Filmed in the small rural towns of Oklahoma, Rutterless tells the story of a Sam (Billy Crudup), as he comes to terms with the tragic loss of his son. For two years, Sam ostracizes himself from society, trading his luxury house for a small boat, and moving between the types of odds and ends job that allow him to retain his reclusive lifestyle. It’s not that he’s forgotten about his son, just that he refuses to confront it, that is, until he discovers a box of recordings made by his son in the time leading up to his death.
As he begins to work his way through the vast selection of songs, Sam begins to explore a side of his child that he had never before been privy too. After seeing Sam perform one of these songs at a local open mic night, a young, troubled musician named Quentin (Anton Yelchin) implores Sam to form a band, which they subsequently do.
Taking on the moniker “Rudderless”, Sam and his boys quickly achieve modest amount of success, but their fame comes with a price. As the bands buzz starts to grow, Sam finds it increasingly harder and harder to hold on to his shadowed past. Eventually, the pressure and pain begin to compound to the point of a total breakdown which will force Sam to either face his tragic memories, or to forever fall victim to their power.
In his directorial debut, William H. Macy has infused his own unique perspective into a genre that has lately become entirely too tepid, and the results are fantastic. Rudderless at times can be a bit challenging to it’s audiences, but with the elegance of a vetted cinema auteur, Macy is able to raise these difficult questions in an environment that is in no way overt or overbearing.
Macy’s long career as a tenured and respected actor, no doubt helped him in securing an all-star cast, but also in directing them. Macy has created a veritable playground in which his stars can flourish, and flourish is exactly what they do. The film features Macy’s real life wife (Felicity Huffman) as Sam’s sensible and daunting ex-wife Emily, as well as outstanding performances by the likes of Laurence Fisburne, Indie-Folk icon Ben Kweller, and even Macy himself as the curator of the local open mic night.
The only weak link in this film’s amazing cast is Selena Gomez, whom never seemed either sincere or believable in her fits of grief and anger. Her character is one that is entirely necessitated by the film’s plot, but unfortunately, Gomez’s presence tends to undermine what could have been the most emotionally draining points in the narrative.
Rudderless is highlighted by its phenomenal musical soundtrack, which features performances by both Crudup and Yelchin, and an assorted bag of wonderful singer-songwriters that Macy scooped up along the path to post-production. The songs may not be as strong as the ones crafted by Jonathan Rice and Jenny Lewis for this year’s Song One, but they are still liable to earn the place in the soundtrack folder on the computers of hipster kids worldwide.
In a narrative sense, Rudderless is the greatest film to emerge from Sundance this year. Whether it can retain the momentum necessary to make an Oscar run in 2015 remains to be seen, but mark my words, you will be seeing the name Rudderless quite a bit in the months too come.