School shootings are a pretty taboo subject to tackle in fiction and especially in film. To be honest, the only one that sticks out in my mind is Gus Van Zant’s Elephant. Now for some this might be spoiler-y but one of the major factors in the arc of the film is a school shooting. In Rudderless, Billy Crudup plays Sam, a father who loses his son after he commits a school shooting and dies. This sends Sam into an unhinged spiral in his life. He was a successful and straight-laced upper middle class father and two years later he’s an aimless man living on a boat who paints houses and rides a bike. His life changes again after he obtains his son’s songbook and guitar that allows him to deal, on some level, with what happened.
That’s all in the beginning, but it’s a confusing pace at first that I feel it is a hindrance to the overall film. Although it must be purposeful from director William H. Macy (who has a small role) to give you some of the feelings Sam is experiencing. Anton Yelchin as Quentin plays a young musician who ends up befriending Sam and is the other main character in this. Billy and Anton have good onscreen presence together and give off a realistic feeling friendship and mentor/mentee relationship. With so much of the film focused on these characters, a lot of the other actors are a tad bit forgettable, besides Laurence Fishburne, who plays the music store owner Del. He’s clearly the trope of a wise Black male to be a voice of reason for both of the main characters. He’s great but I got to call it as I see it.
This film has a lot of musical performances, which I feel is where most of the interesting direction happens. The rest of the film, cinematography-wise, is a bit standard in shot selection. Close-up here, then medium shot there, long shot establishing new scene and place. It’s not a feast for the eyes, but it’s not really needed for this film. With the focus so much on Crudup, it’s on him a lot to hold your focus on the screen. Luckily he gives a great performance that doesn’t leave you bored.
Now it does in a way wrap it all up a little too fast in my opinion. I also bet people think Selena Gomez is a selling point with her being in the film, but she’s really not in it much, so if you’re a fan of her you might feel some type of way about it if you’re expecting to see her perform in a quieter film than say Spring Breakers. Rudderless is a pretty good character study about grief and guilt and how it can flip those left behind upside down. The cast and the crew do a good job and now there is something else to look out for now with the name William H. Macy, actor and director.