Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Rudderless Movie Poster Image
Touching drama about father remembering lost son with music.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 105 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Sometimes it's hard to face deeply unpleasant truths, but pretending they don't exist doesn't make it so. Sam spends a good portion of the film hiding from a tragic incident in the recent past; he's only able to move forward with his life when he acknowledges what happened.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sam, whose own son has died, becomes a reluctant father figure to Quentin and helps the shy young man become more confident. The relationship is initially built atop a significant deception-through-omission, but when the painful truth comes out, their connection becomes stronger.


A man tries to kiss his employee while drunk; she rebuffs him, swatting him away. Two men get into a brief scuffle that leaves one with a black eye. The film revolves around an act of senseless violence that's never seen but often discussed.


A shy young man flirts tentatively with a group of girls. Couples are shown kissing in the background at a party.


Frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "d--k," and "balls."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

After a tragedy, the main character retreats from life and becomes a semi-functional alcoholic. He drinks, beer, whine, whisky, and plenty of other things and gets pretty drunk in several scenes. A few sequences also show people smoking pot.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rudderless takes place in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy (a college shooting), and the main character is in full retreat from the world. Once a successful executive, he's now living on a small boat, painting houses and drinking most days, trying to assuage the memory of his beloved son. He gets quite drunk on many occasions; some scenes also feature people smoking pot. Expect lots of swearing ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and more) and some emotionally complex and heavy themes -- all of which make Rudderless best for older teens and up.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 13-year-old Written byKristin H. February 8, 2018

Profound, great music

We watched this with kids 13 up. They thought it was really good. Well written and directed. Great conversations about the impact our lives and choices have on... Continue reading
Adult Written byMARK L. October 22, 2017

A tremendous revelation allowing parents to exorcise false demons of guilt.

The toughest subject matter on earth for parents of a child. If it happens, do you as mother or father just hide... or do you face the demons and everyone on ea... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Once a successful executive, Sam's (Billy Crudup) life fell apart when his son Josh died in a tragic college shooting. Two years later, Sam has detached himself completely from his former reality; now he lives on a sailboat, painting houses and drinking heavily. When his ex-wife uncovers a cache of music written and recorded by their son, Sam starts performing the tunes at a local bar. The haunting lyrics attract the attention of Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a talented but equally adrift young man who persuades Sam to help form a band to play more of Josh's compositions. Only thing is, he doesn't know that Sam didn't write them. And he has bigger secrets of his own.

Is it any good?

This poignant film plucks from the headlines a tragic and all-too-painful story and explores what happens when parents experience the worst and have their hearts torn to bits. The actors are what make the film so watchable -- especially Crudup; Sam's grief is physically manifested in gestures as economical as a shrug. He's fantastic with Yelchin, who plays the boy who rescues Sam from his dense fog with empathy and companionship, especially in their musical interludes (both actors seem so comfortable with their guitars that they might as well be musicians). Crudup is also great with Felicity Huffman, who plays Sam's equally mournful ew-wife.

William H. Macy, who makes his directorial debut with Rudderless and has a cameo as a bar owner, keeps an easy but still fairly tight hold on the reins. But he doesn't paint a three-dimensional picture of Josh, whose death somewhat anchors the story. For that matter, Sam still feels amorphous: What kind of dad was he before that fateful day? What kind of mom was his wife? How can the audience care about who they've become after such profound loss if they don't know who they are as parents in the first place? But the story is still moving -- and sobering, too. And not so easy to forget.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Rudderless portrays drinking and alcoholism. Does it seem realistic? Are there believable consequences?

  • A school shooting figures into the storyline; talk to your kids about how the film handles the topic and about how people react to them.

  • What do you think about the relationship between Quentin and Sam? What do each of them need, and how is each fulfilling the other's needs?

  • Why does Sam start playing Josh's songs in public? Was it right for him to perform them without explaining their origin?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

Themes & Topics

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