Thunder Road started out as a 12-minute Sundance Festival short and has morphed into an hour-and-a-half character study of this square-jawed policeman singing, dancing and weeping his way through his mother’s eulogy.
Any film that opens with an uncut 12-minute scene is taking a risk – but this risk pays off. Thunder Road is completely unpredictable. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s cringeworthy – but most of all it’s masterful.
Writer, director and actor Jim Cummings has created a magnificent piece of cinema which will surely end up on “Indie films you must watch this year” lists. The tightrope between comedy and drama is walked expertly – the audience never quite knows which direction the scene is going to head, but when it does flip from melancholy to mania it seems to be perfectly reasonable.
Jim Arnaud (Cummings) is a man on the brink of a serious nervous breakdown. Dealing with the death of his mother, divorce from his wife and growing behavioural problems of his daughter, Jim has instability and stress pressing in from all sides. He fistfights a fridge he thinks is an intruder, he mistakenly threatens a judge while fighting for custody of his daughter, and he strips almost naked while screaming and crying in front of the whole police force. It is fascinating to witness, but also unnerving.
As the film opens with Jim in this state of disarray, it takes a while to get a picture of his true character. Has he always been so erratic? Or is this far from the true Jim Arnaud? From the other characters’ reactions to Jim’s bizarre ramblings and tantrums, it seems that the unravelling of this man has been slowly taking place and we are just here to witness the tail-end of it.
Jim Cummings should certainly be lauded for the direction and screenplay of Thunder Road, but his acting outshines both. Cummings monologues his way through the film with such hypnotic energy it can be hard to look away, even when he is half-laughing-half-crying like something you’d see in a B-grade horror movie.
As the film is very much a deep dive into the fragile psyche of one man, the other characters lack depth. To be honest, I’d very happily have watched a full 130 minutes of Cummings exploring the very deep crevices of grief with no other characters making an appearance. That being said, the supporting cast of Kendal Farr, Chelsea Edmundson and Nican Robinson did a superb job.
Go watch Thunder Road before it becomes a cult classic.
Made back its $200,000 budget and then some in its first week playing in 67 theatres in France where it was a sleeper hit.