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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Rudderless
Rudderless
Paramount // R // January 20, 2015
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted January 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

With his feature directorial debut, William H. Macy manages to successfully explore two delicate themes that would usually be reserved for more seasoned filmmakers: The grieving process of a parent who lost his child, under extremely tragic circumstances to boot, and the way a community heals after one of those school shootings that the media turns into entertainment pieces but that actually affects real people in real places in profoundly heartbreaking ways. Did I mention that it's also a pretty uplifting story about the first baby steps of a pop/rock band?

Sam (Billy Crudup) is a successful yet self-centered ad man, until his life turnse upside down upon his aspiring musician son Josh's (Miles Heizer) violent death after a school shooting. A year after the tragic event, Sam's now a drunk living off his boat, making ends meet by working unskilled manual labor jobs, and is a shell of his former self in all the ways such a clich├ęd description deserves. After his ex-wife (Felicity Huffman, one half of the Hollywood power couple Felicity M. Muffman, as Stephen Colbert once so delicately coined) brings him a box full of Josh's demo CDs, Sam decides to play Josh's songs at a local dive as an attempt at finding some kind of closure.

When a troubled and introverted kid named Quentin (Anton Yelchin) is impressed by the songs he thinks were written by Sam, he convinces Sam to form a band to play the songs with a more professional approach. As their band becomes more and more popular in Sam's small town, it forces Sam to not only find a way to explain to the public the truth behind the songs, but to also finally face some unpleasant facts about his son's death.

Macy, who's one of the best American actors of his or any generation (His turn as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo might be my favorite male performance of all time), presents an assured direction that steers away from the typical showy, heart string tugging and overdramatized approach of films that deal with such dire circumstances and opts to merely show the organic development of a parent's grieving process. The acting is natural and solid all around, with Crudup showcasing a command dramatic performance.

Aside from being a successful drama about such a tender subject, Rudderless also takes some chances with its narrative and ups the ante during the second act with a twist around Josh's role in the school shooting. Usually, such a sensational 180 would make the whole project crash and burn, especially in a first feature. The revelation regarding Josh is one that would usually require the whole focus of a film for the audience to wrap their minds around, yet Macy and his co-writing team (Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison) sail through such tricky waters by always keeping the focus on Sam, while avoiding any cookie cutter explanations for Josh's actions. The film's powerful final scene brings some well-deserved peace and closure without attempting to manufacture any easy answers.

The songs that were written for the film are perfect, considering that they're supposed to come out of Josh's imagination. They're fairly benign and catchy rock/pop tunes while also containing some hints as to Josh's true character.

The DVD:

Video:

Rudderless sports a near-perfect standard definition transfer that's devoid of many video noise issues that can be found on DVD, especially when it's upconverted to HD via an upconverting Blu-Ray or DVD player. This is not a particularly colorful or stylized film, it manages to settle into a more or less natural look.

Audio:

The film's lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track predictably shines whenever one of the many songs are performed. The surround channels and the subwoofer especially kick in once the band in the story comes together. Otherwise, Rudderless is a pretty dialogue heavy drama. The dialogue is heard clearly and the subtle sound mix is transferred as well as a lossy track can handle.

Extras:

Featurette: This is a 20-minute making of documentary that seems to be shot and edited on the crew's own time. It refreshingly lacks the marketing-oriented look and feel of typical EPKs and offers some honest and insightful interviews with Macy and Crudup.

Mucis Video: A low-budget music video of one of the songs in the film, this time co-sung by Selena Gomez, who fortunately has a very small role in the film.

Deleted Scenes: Ten minutes of deleted material. One of the scenes is a long sequence that includes Jamie Chung, which explains why she shows up as a glorified extra in the finished film.

We also get some Trailers.

Final Thoughts:

Rudderless is a surprisingly effective drama that manages to deal with some heavy subject matter while delivering a relatively lighthearted story about the healing power of music.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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