Written, directed and lead by Jim Cummings, as a police officer who faces a personal meltdown following a divorce and the death of his mother. Also starring: Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Jocelyn DeBoer, Chelsea Edmundson, Macon Blair, Ammie Masterson and Bill Wise.
American Indie darling Jim Cummings has proven himself time and time again a lover of movies and dedicated to the craft, so you know that a film helmed by him is going to feed into that and Thunder Road certainly does. Opening a film on a funeral, where its lead character does an improvised dance, without music, in dedication to his late mother while wearing his police uniform makes a hell of an impression but it’s so perfectly uncomfortable. It sets the tone for the character of Jim Arnaud that gives you enough of a taste for what’s to come; he’s an odd man going through an especially difficult time. That’s the incredibly clever thing about this film, that he’s not overly likable, he’s a very individual man with his own set of issues but that’s life, not everyone is sweet and perfect, he’s a fallible person trying his best. There are even moments where you may want to actively dislike him but there’s simultaneously a quality to his character that’s so real and relatable that you can’t help but to get drawn into his story. Cummings’ performance as Arnaud leaves everything out on the table, there isn’t an emotion unexplored or road untaken that the story calls for, he wasn’t afraid to really throw himself into the role while ensuring to capture it flawlessly as its director.
Perhaps the other strongest quality of the film is its unpredictability, often small town American dramas start and end exactly where you expect but Thunder Road quickly throws that out of the window and never looks back. Arnaud comes across as a reasonable man but he’s also capable of anything, the grief and loneliness that is trapped in his classic denial causes him to be a ticking time bomb of violence, drama and aggression. It’s an achievement of the writing that it has such an unpredictable story mixed with a very consistent tone. Cummings also has great support in the form of Kendal Farr and Nican Robinson, playing his daughter and partner, the two add different qualities to Arnaud but for the most part, what they add is sympathy. While the character has difficulty expressing himself, he still makes clear his care for those closest to him, the opening of the film directly expresses as much and that continues throughout; it’s a difficult quality to add to a character who is so very distinct but Cummings does it in a way that’s very natural and follows the flow of the story.
There’s a quality to the film that feels unquestionably down to earth, it has a harsh truth with an almost naïve perspective resulting in something that’s relatable yet very specific to his experience. The direction is very personal and intimate, it’s not about showing off, it’s about telling the story in an utterly human, daily life way. Throughout it has a theme that while its physical events may not be specifically relatable, its themes are undoubtedly so. From its opening that hits such a strange yet fascinating note to its unexpected turns, the film keeps you on your toes yet never strays from its humble tones; it’s a tricky line to walk but it does so in a way that feels effortless.
Thunder Road is a story that perfectly personifies how everyone deals with the difficulties of their lives differently. It takes a story of love, loss, anger, grief and applies it universally to the human experience, it’s simultaneously specific and shared. Jim Cummings’ performance as actor, writer and director shows an enviable level of skills, this role asked a lot of him so having to also create it and control the visual is a difficult task which he achieves flawlessly.