Jim Cummings (director)
31 May 2019 (released)
29 May 2019
Jim Cummings can’t be accused of being workshy what with writing, directing, editing and starring in Thunder Road. Based on his own Sundance prize winning 2016 short film of the same name it’s understandable that he’d want to keep a certain amount of control. It was a good decision.
Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) is one tightly strung individual having to cope with the death of his mother and a divorce. The latter particularly difficult as it involves his young daughter Crystal (Kendall Farr) and that his ex-wife Ros (Jocelyn DeBoer) is looking for custody, while dealing with her own demons, in her own way.
His daughter acts as an anchor as his world starts to fall into the bottle and his mind into torment. These naturally have consequence. At work in the police force he’s struggling; problematic work relationships are thrown in to sharp relief as Officer Arnaud makes some choice comments and actions that leave the powers that be with few options.
His connection (or re-connection) to Crystal is vividly captured in a hand-clapping game that he miserably fails at first time only to come back later on having mastered it. That’s his life; the occasional inspirational shaft of light cutting through the bleakness as the films shifts tones from comedy to high drama.
Much of this depends on Cummings and he is very, very good as a man teetering on total destruction fighting to keep things together, and he really does throw some situations for Arnaud to deal with. It does open the way for Cummings to almost overindulge at times, and he does go off on solos.
In particular the opening segment when he’s giving the eulogy at his mother’s funeral looking to riff on Springsteen’s Thunder Road only for his daughter’s cassette player to fail on him. Thrown by this he starts to improvise and it does seem to meander but it serves to bare Arnaud’s fragmented mind.
The dusty local town setting, eccentric characters and general small-scale of the production, scream indie and knowingly oddball. There’s no doubt something of that as the budget was undoubtably restricted (it was funded via Kickstarter) and there are no great directorial flourishes. At the same time, it doesn’t have that hang-loose smugness that sometimes pervades these productions. It’s tightly held together and presented by Cummings as director, and with another hand in the editing suite.
There are a few laughs here but the real strength and depth of Thunder Road is in the depiction of a man clinging on by his fingertips to his life and loves, both of which are ruthless and that at times is profoundly harrowing to watch.