' Cinema Romantico: Rudderless

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rudderless

In the magnificent "All Is Lost" Robert Redford starred as unnamed man so determined to escape whatever mistakes he made in his previous life that he took to the open sea in a boat all on his lonesome and was made to lose everything he had before he could begin (whether for real or metaphorically) anew. In "Rudderless" Billy Crudup stars as Sam Manning, a man so determined to escape the unspeakable tragedy in his past that he also takes to a boat. The sly twist, however, as comical as it is sad, is that his boat remains firmly anchored to shore, a place for him merely to sleep, drink and urinate off the bow. And because he remains tethered to land, he remains tethered to the tragedy of his past, the death of his son, Josh (Miles Heizer). He is both unable to confront it and unwilling to let himself drift away from it.


That changes when Sam's ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) turns up one day with Josh's old guitar, his sketchbook of lyrics and a box full of homemade CD's. Reluctantly, he loses himself in the music of his lost flesh and blood, as comforting as it is traumatizing, playing one of his son's songs at a local open mic night without revealing its true author, and then even more reluctantly falling in with Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a would-be rock star if only he could past his ample nerves.

Clearly the relationship between Sam and Quentin is intended as a case of surrogate father/son, the emblematic opportunity for a dad to repair what went wrong. Crudup, however, never lets it fall into the trap of this banality, instead conveying it more as a prickly rapport between a closed-off mentor and an over-eager protege. He doesn't let Quentin all the way in, primarily because he knows that to let Quentin all the way in might just ruin the promising youth before he's blossomed. Yet, at the same time, he realizes their small-time rock 'n' roll dream is precisely what is allowing him to blossom, and so he forges ahead. Crudup simply excels at these sorts of contradictions, and his back and forth between dick and decent is effortless.

The problem, however, is that the script by director William H. Macy & Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison forces their leading man to act nearly three-fourths of the film with a secret, and one that is entirely pointless to keep hidden from the audience aside from theoretical shock and awe when it is inevitably spilled. It's as if Macy, a first-time film director, did not trust himself with dark-hearted material, and so rather than honestly asking if something as dispensible as music can ease or remedy legitimate psychological trauma, he opts for waters blue and unsullied, crafting a "Begin Again" that suddenlys pull the old switcheroo into (spoiler alert by clicking on link!) this.

"Rudderless" as a whole struggles with tone, putting Crudup through an eternal grind of behavioral paces, from bitter drunk to overgrown frat boy fronting a band to - in the film's most utterly misguided subplot - Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack" taking a snot-nosed yachtsman down a peg or two. Yet even if the film itself can't handle the final shift, Crudup can, credibly evincing an emotionally wrecked man who doesn't find solace in his son's music so much as a necessary perspective. Still, there were so many more demons for him to wrestle, and oh to see the movie that might have let him.

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