Director: Jim Cummings
Starring: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Jocelyn DeBoer
Words – Toni Stanger
Thunder Road opens with Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) delivering the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. It’s a 10-minute scene shot in one long, unbroken take, which is the perfect way to introduce us to this unravelling character. Jim begins talking about how kind and compassionate his mother was, before going off on a tangent about how he regrets being mean to her when he was a child. Jim then delivers what is essentially a performance art piece; singing and dancing along to his mother’s favourite song (‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen), only he couldn’t get the song to play through his daughter’s pink boombox, so he’s just flailing about in the silence. This unusual funeral scene is what makes up the short film of the same name that this feature is based on, and it sets the tone for the story ahead.
Thunder Road is a character study above all else. There’s a comedic energy throughout, even during the scenes that explore the more serious problems that Jim faces. Not only has his mother recently passed away, but his estranged wife Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer) is filing for divorce and custody of their 10-year-old daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr). The film delivers a very realistic portrayal of a man whose life is falling apart. It impacts his job performance as a police officer and contributes to his already unstable personality. Jim goes around unintentionally embarrassing himself, living almost as a how-to guide for how not to live.
During a Q&A screening at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield, Cummings explained that he loves films that can make the audience both laugh and cry (he named Inside Out as an example), and he set out to achieve this himself. The long takes throughout the film allow us to be more present during Jim’s bizarre experiences and Cummings’ theatrical style of acting fits the character to perfection and keeps us gripped to the screen. It’s these factors, alongside a fantastic script, that allow us to experience this mix of emotions.
Jim keeps most of his problems to himself, which results in the occasional outburst, going from upset to composed in a matter of seconds is quite unsettling, yet very humorous. It makes Jim rather unpredictable throughout, but overall it’s a good commentary on masculinity and how he tries to suppress the emotions that want to burst out of him. Despite Jim’s flaws and alarming personality, he’s always trying to become a better person and keeps on going for his daughter. His caring side is seen mostly during his time with Crystal and his friend and co-worker Officer Nate Lewis (Nican Robinson). It’s hard to watch Jim struggle as everything around him falls apart.
It’s interesting to note the binary oppositions presented in Thunder Road. Whilst one may associate the job role of a police officer with control, Jim is instead often spiralling out of it. On the flip side of the coin, the police are heavily regarded as the enemy in America, Thunder Road manages to humanise a police officer and, as an American himself, Cummings explained how Republicans might be thankful for that, but in turn Liberals would say “that man should not have a gun” because he’s clearly unstable. There’s a moment where Jim’s in a heated rant with Nate and he ends up drawing his gun without even realising. Jim later apologies saying “I’m sorry if I committed a hate crime against you,” serving as a wider comment on the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
During the Q&A, Cummings revealed that he writes and performs scenes out loud and records them into podcasts so he can listen back and make edits accordingly. Thunder Road is a dialogue and performance driven film, so this writing method really seems to have paid off, especially with him also serving as lead actor and director.
Overall, Thunder Road is a strong debut feature with a lot of heart and humour that invites you into the life of someone who doesn’t have it all together. Cummings says he’s already working on his next feature, which is about a police officer who is tracking down a werewolf.