11th October 2018 1.00pm at BFI Southbank
12th October 2018 6.15pm at Vue West End
20th October 2018 6.30pm at odeontcr: Odeon Tottenham Court Road
Two grown men sit opposite one another, awkwardly sprawled over child-size chairs. Hiding behind their large physiques, two boys play at being adults. This meticulously crafted scene is one which perfectly sums up Jim Cummings’s debut feature, Thunder Road. A coming-of-age comedy about a middle-aged cop, this film is an unflinchingly awkward, disarmingly tender and startlingly funny exploration of parenthood which melts down our preconceptions of both maturity and masculinity.
When Officer Arnaud loses his mother, he gives a less-than-conventional eulogy. After apologetic hysterics and an unforgivingly unaccompanied dance routine, something becomes painfully obvious: trapped in the protagonist’s decorated uniform is a frightened child. But Arnaud has a kid of his own to raise, and when issues of custody come into play, he must address his grief or risk losing the one thing he has left.
Cummings packs explosive emotion into every scene. The actor plays two internally warring characters: his face constantly flicks from hard to soft; the tone of his voice modulates from low barks to high squeaks; his vulnerability is momentarily exposed before the macho facade is pulled back into place. He has spent so long bottling up his feelings that they seem to leak out sporadically in hysterical bursts, teasing out laughter and then deep sympathy. Cummings transitions from toddler tantrums to adolescent boozing with artful authenticity. Picking up the pieces is Nican Robins, who perfectly embodies the delicate navigation of tender brotherly love and fatherly resilience. While her dad strops, sulks and breaks down entirely, Kendall Farr puts in a delightful performance as daughter Crystal, bemused and yet alarmingly shaped by the adult world.
Resolute direction intensifies the rawness of the journey. Long, unrelenting shots allow no escape from frenzied monologues. This is a movie that questions why we freeze at the sight of male emotion. It’s not just the scenes that are uncomfortable, but also our less-than-helpful squirmish reaction to undignified yet profoundly human public displays. While the opening scene has a pointed lack of music, denying our protagonist the soundtrack which would make his funeral choreography (slightly) less ridiculous, throughout the rest of the film mournful yet rhythmic strings keep the pace ticking on. Time stops for no man, as static cuts of mundane domestic life remind us.
As Arnaud stands silhouetted in the dark, looking down on his daughter, who is bathed in the warm glow of her nightlight, we see a father who will do anything to keep her safe. But ironically, it’s only when he lets down his guard that he will find happiness. Like a fresh wound, Thunder Road is raw and at times difficult to look at. But our reward is a heart-warming and darkly funny glimpse of truth which reminds us that despite outward appearances, not one of us really knows what we are doing.
Thunder Road does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Thunder Road here: