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Rudderless DVD Review

Rudderless (2014) movie poster Rudderless

Theatrical Release: October 1, 2014 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: William H. Macy / Writers: Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison, William H. Macy

Cast: Billy Crudup (Sam Manning), Anton Yelchin (Quentin), Felicity Huffman (Emily Timberg), Jamie Chung (Lisa Martin), Selena Gomez (Kate Ann Lucas), Laurence Fishburne (Del), Ben Kweller (Willie), Ryan Dean (Aiken), Peter Spruyt (Alaird Dupree), Miles Heizer (Josh Manning), Kate Micucci (Peaches), William H. Macy (Trill Proprietor), Stacy Cunningham (Joyce), Zoe Graham (Lizzie), Michele Rene (Tina)

Buy Rudderless from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

Veteran actor of stage, film and television William H. Macy makes his feature filmmaking debut on Rudderless,
an independent drama he directed, co-wrote and executive produced.

The film opens with Sam Manning (Billy Crudup), a successful ad executive, encouraging his collegiate son Josh (Miles Heizer), an aspiring musician, to cut class and meet him for a lunch to celebrate some good business news. Josh doesn't show up and instead is killed in a campus shooting. Two years after the tragedy and being instructed to take some time away from work, Sam is living on a boat, regularly urinating off its side, and riding a bike to his new job as a house painter.

Divorced and defeated, Sam cannot get over his son's death. When ex-wife Emily (Felicity Huffman) gives him some of Josh's possessions, Sam discovers his late son's music. He takes his guitar over to Trill Tavern's open mic night and plays for a very small audience one of Josh's original songs. The uncharacteristic, cathartic performance impresses Quentin (Anton Yelchin), an awkward young donut shop clerk who begs Sam to let him play and harmonize with him.

In "Rudderless", Sam Manning (Billy Crudup), a father mourning the death of his son, finds solace in playing his son's music.

Reluctantly giving in to the young admirer, Sam winds up forming a band called Rudderless with Quentin and two other twentysomethings. Working primarily from Josh's demos and notebooks (a fact Sam never discloses to them), the band catches on, becoming a Saturday night staple at Trill and even being invited to perform at a major concert.

When the truth about the music's origins emerges, it casts doubt over the band and over the friendship that has formed between Quentin and his new father figure Sam.

Rudderless is a confident and competent debut for Macy. It is substantial, absorbing and entertaining. There are just a few causes for concern. The biggest of them is that Josh's role in the college shooting is disingenuously presented as a huge twist around an hour in. The film is deliberately ambiguous on the circumstances. The bombshell drop creates a fundamental shift, though, which completely changes the nature of Sam's self-imposed therapy and Rudderless' value. Furthermore, this information indirectly comes to light via Josh's ex-girlfriend, a role that is far beyond Selena Gomez's modest dramatic gifts. Fortunately, her screentime is brief and therefore so too is the presence of the cast's weak link (seemingly here only to lend a marketable young name to this low-budget project).

Aside from those two drawbacks (one of which robs the joy from comic moments it can no longer pull off), the film is generally quite good. The acting is terrific, particularly from Crudup, whose lack of film work worthy of him is perplexing in light of how very good he usually is. He makes the most of this job, a far too rare lead role for him which can only serve to remind other filmmakers and casting directors how qualified he is for leading man duties. As the shy deuteragonist, the productive Yelchin is also solid and as convincing as he's ever been. It's also worth noting that both actors do their own singing and guitar playing, which is no small feat for how much of each they do.

Larry Fishburne plays Del, a music equipment store owner whom Sam and Quentin befriend. Sam (Billy Crudup) and ex-wife Emily (Felicity Huffman) visit their son's grave in the scene that changes everything with a big twist.

While it's a bit of a stretch to see Josh/Sam's music go from largely unnoticed on open mic night to delighting a packed house, the original songs by Simon Steadman, Charlton Pettus, and Fink are catchy and compelling. They are the kinds of central tunes you might expect to compete in the Oscars' Original Song race. But, although three of them made the eligible list of 79,
the movie was too small to really be on anyone's radar, having played in just 18 theaters for a couple of weeks in October. And though that theater count matches the highest held by Glen Campbell:... I'll Be Me, which did get an Original Song nod, that documentary did play longer and to significantly more moviegoers. Comparable and not as good but seen by far many Begin Again made the cut as well.

Macy, who also fills a small supporting role, shows enough promise behind the camera to warrant him returning there soon. He's already got plans to do just that on Crystal, a film aiming for 2015 release with a cast that will include Jane Fonda, Josh Hutcherson, Sienna Miller, John Hawkes, and his wife Huffman.

Theatrically distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, a company whose output has generally been of the fringe variety, Rudderless reaches DVD and Digital HD today (not Blu-ray, for now) from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

Rudderless DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: January 21, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video


Rudderless may have a low budget, but it's not so low that the movie doesn't look great on Blu-ray. Macy takes obvious pride in the compositions of Eric Lin and the DVD's 1.78:1 always pleases. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack similarly satisfies, doing a nice job of mixing music and dialogue in an even and easy to appreciate manner.

William H. Macy acts with and directs Billy Crudup in this behind-the-scenes still from "Hear This Song." Selena Gomez, out of place in a small role in the film, sings "Hold On" with Ben Kweller in this music video.


Though Paramount typically treats new movies to barebones DVDs these days, this licensed title is spared such a fate while being denied a Blu-ray Disc release.

The first of the DVD's three extras, "Hear This Song" (12:04) is a good making-of featurette which gets interviews from relevant parties, mostly William H. Macy and Billy Crudup. Their thoughtful remarks cover the casting, Macy's directing debut, and the original music.

Next, a music video (3:47) allows Ben Kweller and Selena Gomez to perform "Hold On", one of the film's original numbers. Macy joins them in a video that relies more on creativity than film clips.

Fourth-billed Jamie Chung appears as scoop-pursuing journalist Lisa Martin in this deleted scene. The DVD's main menu is simply adapted from the poster-turned-cover art.

Finally, a deleted scenes section (8:13) consists of five clips. These preserve some discarded plot points (like an arrangement Sam makes with the journalist played by Jamie Chung) as well as a foreseeable alternate ending.

The disc opens with trailers for Boyhood and Men, Women & Children. The Previews listing repeats the same two. Rudderless' own trailer, which contributes some to the film's deceptive/misdirect, is not included here.

The static main menu attaches score to a wide rendering of the cover art. Submenus are silent.

No inserts join the plain gray disc inside the unslipcovered eco-friendly black keepcase.

Invited on to the houseboat, Quentin (Anton Yelchin) jams with Sam (Billy Crudup).


Rudderless is a good drama that is mildly set back by its unnecessary reliance on a big, unsettling twist. Though that design will prompt questions and criticisms, it cannot undo the powerful acting by leading man Billy Crudup or the other heartfelt, reasonably enjoyable material and music.

Buy Rudderless from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Men, Women & Children Boyhood Jimi: All Is By My Side The Strange Little Cat Horns
Begin Again Inside Llewyn Davis This Must Be the Place
Billy Crudup: Eat Pray Love | Anton Yelchin: Like Crazy Middle of Nowhere The Beaver Only Lovers Left Alive Fright Night (2011)
Felicity Huffman: Trust Me Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season | William H. Macy:

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Reviewed January 20, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Unified Picture, Dog Pond Productions, Amberdale Productions, Bron Studio, Samuel Goldwyn Films, and 2015 Paramount Home Media Distribution.
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