Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Songs of love & death: In RUDDERLESS William H. Macy gives Billy Crudup one hell of a role

Talk about a fine actor who has appeared in a few too many less-than-fine films (from Grind to Watchmen to Thin Ice) yet just never seems to live up to his movie potential, and the name Billy Crudup can't help but come to mind. The wait is now over with the theatrical release of RUDDERLESS, the newest addition, as well as one of the more original, to the continuing spate of Columbine-inspired films, from Elephant to Beautiful Boy to We Need to Talk About Kevin. Mr. Crudup (on poster above, left, and below) has often given remarkable performances (in Jesus' Son, for example), yet movie after movie failed to find much of an audience. Let's hope Rudderless breaks that streak.

The new film's director and co-writer (with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison) is a long-time favorite of ours and of many other film buffs: William H. Macy. Best known as a fine actor (with already 132 IMDB credits), a sometimes writer and now a director (although he did direct a TV movie back in 1988), in one quick jump (which he's no doubt been practising for over the decades), he is, as they say, a triple threat. Visually, verbally, even musically -- for music is as important to this film as it is to any musical -- Rudderless is a winner. The several original songs here, by Simon Steadman, Charlton Pettus and Fink, are all keepers. You're going to want to hear them again, immediately after viewing the movie.

The story here -- of which I'm gong to say damned little because you deserve to follow it fresh and be surprised and charmed and moved -- involves a fractured family about to be fractured even further. Crudup plays the hotshot, ad-exec dad who's been more or less missing in action over the years. Having just won a coveted contract, he arranges to meet his college-age son for lunch.

Felicity Huffman (above) plays mom, from whom Crudup's character has long been split, while Selena Gomez (below) essays the role of the son's ex-girlfriend. Both are fine but this is basically a man-and-boy movie in which the men and boys make some terrific music, while the major man works through his demons to try to arrive at some kind of truth, some raison d'etre.

The movie tackles grief from more interesting angles than our films usually allow us to experience, and this is one of the reasons it works so well. Before you shy away from yet another "grief" bash, you should know that Rudderless is often wonderfully funny, sharp, smart and enjoyable. The movie's title doubles as the name of the band that is formed in the course of the film, and perhaps the funniest line of all involves an alternate name for this little group. Hemingway, anyone?

A major theme explored here is that of art, and the question of what difference it makes whether the creator of that art is a "good" or a "bad" person. (Think of the work of the Leni Riefenstahl, for an example.) This adds an entire and very rich layer of probing, along with some genuine anger and confusion, to what we're viewing. Stuggling with this idea makes for a wonderfully salutary experience.

Along with Crudup, the cast includes Anton Yelchin (above), as the young man who first discovers Crudup's songs and voice and keeps pushing him to form a band, and Laurence Fishburne, as the owner of the local music supply shop. Both are in fine fettle, and Yelchin all but steals the movie, were Crudup not so moment-to-moment real.

Back to those songs. As the film progresses, and we finally hear them all and learn more about what is really going on here, the music takes on major proportions. It is splendid stuff, as important, serious, enjoyable and ama-zing as the movie it inhabits. By the time Rudderless concludes--passion-ately and beautifully--you'll know you've experienced something special.

From Samuel Goldwyn Films and running 105 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, October 17, in theaters and via digital HD and VOD. In New York City, look for it at the AMC Empire 25 and the Village East Cinema; in Los Angeles it'll play the Sundance Sunset Cinema. Elsewhere? Yes: all across the country. Click here and then scroll down to see the entire list of cities and theaters.

No comments: