Back to IndieWire

Sundance Review: ‘Rudderless’ Is A Remarkable Directorial Debut From William H. Macy

Sundance Review: 'Rudderless' Is A Remarkable Directorial Debut From William H. Macy

So let it be known throughout the land: William H. Macy has balls of steel. In addition to juggling a busy, successful film and television career, he’s taken on a new role—filmmaker. His first feature film, “Rudderless,” is a poignant story that explores finding happiness in the midst of loss and pain. And you know what? It’s really damn good.

“Rudderless” follows the wonderful, horrible life of Sam (Billy Crudup), a successful advertising executive whose life is shaken up when his son is killed in a horrible college shooting tragedy. Sam isn’t coping with this well—his life now revolves around microwave pizza and hitting the bottle hard; fast forward a few years later and Sam is living on a boat and making money by painting houses for a contractor. He’s sobered up and just trying to live his life as best as he can. While going through the remainder of his son’s possessions, Sam stumbles across music his son made in the time leading up to the shootings. As a former musician himself, Sam works out his angst by learning his son’s songs and playing them. Soon after, he finds it therapeutic to play these songs at a local bar. But when a young musician (Anton Yelchin) finds this music intoxicating, the two team up and start a band (with Ben Kweller!), changing their lives forever.

You’re probably thinking the movie sounds odd or inconsiderate—school shootings are a very sensitive subject and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But at the heart of “Rudderless” is a story about moving on; at a certain point, dwelling on the past becomes poisonous. On the other end of the spectrum from films like “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” “Elephant”, and other films with school violence at the center—”Rudderless” is about really, truly moving forward with your life and doing your best not to focus on the past. Sam doesn’t want to become a famous musician, he doesn’t want to forget about his son and pretend nothing ever happened, he just wants to find a way to carry on. No parent ever wants to be the father or mother of a child who takes the lives of others, but that possibility lingers ever more prominently as violence increases in the world around us.

Sam is the type of person who makes friends one year only to lose them the next. A guy who manages to keep his ragged and uncouth confidence, no matter what emotional state he’s in, which makes Crudup the perfect fit, carrying arrogance and confidence together with sincerity. Crudup’s Sam is a coward for not dealing with his son’s brutal and tragic ending, but he’s filled with more hurt than he can process and his healing begins when his regret ends. And yes, you Selenators, Selena Gomez does have a pivotal role in the film and is great, showing plenty of potential for becoming a leading lady one day.

“Rudderless” is a very impressive directorial debut from the acclaimed Macy. Not a coming-of-age or let-the-tears-fly movie with a Sigur Ros-filled soundtrack—it’s a fairly easy-to-digest look at how to cope, before worse becomes intolerable. Any movie dealing with such heartbreaking violence is going to rattle your soul, but it’s about how the filmmaker tenderly dismantles the story, and shows us so much more. It’s an ambitious and strong first start for Macy’s filmmaking career as he’s clearly taken a note or two from some of the great filmmakers he’s worked for. Don’t let the title of this film fool you—“Rudderless” is solid. [B]

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged , , , , , , ,



WH Macy lets the plot out in interviews. I think its okay. It doesn’t ruin the movie. The movie is just plain good.


Loved this film. I was expecting a typically trite, Hollywood, coming-of-age, cookie cutter film. Boy was I wrong. We all know what a great job the cast did, but the writers – Macy in particular for tweaking this script for such a long time… excellent. I don’t know how I feel about the ending..(?).. I almost wanted our hero to play one of his OWN songs, signifying that he will go on, the healing has begun. That didn’t happen – the lack of applause was very poignant and powerful; don’t get me wrong – great ending – the song did address his relationship with his son, but I just keep thinking about the last scene over and over (which is probably what W.H. Macy wants).


my favorite william h macy role is defently as Frank Gallagher on Shameless. funny that him and his shameless co/star Cameron Monaghan both have a film over sundance.
Monaghan got a film call jimmy mark is dead playing over there.


I saw this at sundance tonight, other reviews and media left the plot twist out, not only did you mention it, but led with it. Don't ruin peoples $12 investment…please edit

Chase Whale

Oh, and please link me where it says he "dies in a school shooting."

Chase Whale

lol – it's not a spoiler. You must lack common sense. His son shooting up the school has nothing to do with the heart of the film. Nothing.

Pull your head out and stop trying to be an Internet Hero.


You might want to announce that your review contains a pretty big spoil alert.


Filmed in Oklahoma! Great place to make a film!


I wonder, is the title a reference at all to the Lemonheads song of the same name? I only wonder because the film deals with music as a story arc.


Unbelievable debut which leads to great music and character development. Did not know the outcome prior to viewing and it kept me singing and following along. The heart of the story pulls at you and gives you hope for them and characters like them.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *