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M.I.O. Movie Review: Rudderless (2014)

10:48 AM EDT on August 18, 2023

Despite its 2014 release, it wasn't until recently that I sat down to watch the M.I.O. movie Rudderless – a William H. Macy-directed film that delves deep into the complexities of emotional survival against real and imagined adversities.

This is primarily because I thought it starred Jim Caviezel – the punchline Sound of Freedom actor that I can't stand — instead of Billy Crudup, an actor I truly like.

Realizing my error, I recently sat down to watch the flick and was impressed with how emotional it all gets. Even writing about it, there is a little tear developing in the corner of my eye.

The story follows Sam Manning (Crudup), a successful ad-man whose songwriting son killed multiple people, and then himself, in a school shooting. Becoming a solid waste of alcoholic depression, Sam falls into a deep black hole of depression, living on a houseboat on Lake Hefner.

Now a cynical house painter, he finds himself at a bar mid-day at an open mic run by the cameoed director, William H. Macy. After his ex-wife gives Sam some of their son’s mementos and songs and, impressively, an acoustic guitar, Sam rediscovers some of his love of music.

Learning and developing his own guitar technique, he tries out his new song and, slowly, gets a small following at Macy’s bar, especially with the excitable boy, Quentin (the late Anton Yelchin).

They bond and form a musical partnership, start a band and —in the grand scheme of bar bands with an Americana feel—they are pretty good, getting a good fan base, especially with a rousing edition of, uh, “The Wheels On the Bus Go Round and Round”—until Selena Gomez finds out the songs are from Sam’s son. Yikes!

As Sam finds his way and the truth behind the songs, he has to make peace with this persona, in the most melodramatic way possible...but it works!

While the exception of little bits of terrible comedy like the ukulele girl or the snippy harbor master, Rudderless is a film about despair and, ultimately, hope, through creative pursuits. Even better, this is a movie about an old man working with young upstarts, which, if you’ve been in an Oklahoma band, you know how this is.

As an actor, Macy is one of our greats, but as a director, he’s alright. More than anything, it’s his connection with the actors that really is his strong suit; besides Crudup, there is a great cast of performers, especially Yelchin, Laurence Fishburne, Felicity Huffman, and even Selena Gomez.

Filmed in Oklahoma City, the Okie sightings are boisterous: Linda Cavanaugh, Lance West, Ali Meyer, Alex Wehrley, an Ogle or two, Channel 43, the county jail, Lake Hefner, the church on Western and NW 30th, an old flyer for the band Wakeland, and even my old schoolmate Casey performs at Macy’s bar.

And don't forget the Great Value pizza that Manning nukes during his depression!

Although some of the movie is a little corny--okay, very corny--it is a blistering meditation about loss and struggle, fear and hope and, ultimately, acceptance and redemption.

I should have watched this in 2014—for that, I am sorry—but it's aged well, and even now, probably works better.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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