The opening scene of Thunder Road sees a cop performing an awkward speech at his mother’s funeral. This sets the tone for a perfectly balanced tragicomedy that has already won the approval of many. Jim Cummings is the writer, director and leading actor of the project that started as a crowd-funded short in 2016 and has had enough acclaim to become a full-length feature. The unbroken shot of the initial sequence is followed by many other lingering takes and close-ups, establishing a sense of intimacy early on. With often nothing but silence in the background, one soon enters the provincial atmosphere of a neighbourhood where very little seems to happen – a stark contrast with the protagonist’s turbulent life.
The film is a portrait of officer Jim Arnaud (Cummings), a socially inept individual prone to bouts of anger who does his best to fit into society and do the right thing. Spurred by the best intentions, his actions invariably become a series of faux pax that alienate and isolate him further the harder he tries to conform. Following the death of his mother, Jim is unable to handle work in a professional manner and is given an enforced break. A divorce from a superficial partner and the ensuing battle for custody of their daughter send the protagonist into a complete breakdown.
Bittersweet to the core, Thunder Road works well as a character study. Cummings’s interpretation of a struggling father who is still nursing his wounds as a son is heartfelt and poignant. The misfortunes that befall him draw enough sympathy to keep the audience invested in the story, although objectively the developments in the plot are often weak. While the emotional dimension stirred by the lead actor maintains the momentum, the narrative in itself relies on conventional elements and unoriginal themes, and it may well have worked as a strong subplot to another story.
The production’s origin as a short may explain this weakness. The full-length film maintains the melancholy feeling of the compact format that made the project successful, but the expansion of Jim’s life story is not quite as powerful as the portrayal of his identity. Secondary characters fall too neatly into categories and can be easily labelled as the “reliable friend”, the “good mother” (Jim’s own) and “bad mother” (his partner), the “mean boss” and so on, thus failing to live up to the solid characterisation of the protagonist. Despite the flatness of some aspects, Thunder Road is a touching tragicomical dance with a shining étoile likely to come up with other exciting projects in future.
Thunder Road is released nationwide on 31st May 2019.
Watch the trailer for Thunder Road here: