Thunder Road (2019)
Director: Jim Cummings | Runtime: 1h 32mins | Comedy, Drama
Following the death of his mother, Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) keeps himself afloat balancing his grief and the divorce from his ex-wife, who is trying to take sole custardy of their daughter who Jim already has a rocky relationship with.
With every review and article you’ll read about Cummings feature debut Thunder Road, you’ll also hear about how it was based on the award winning short of the same name. This is for a good reason, though, as it fantastically balanced drama, comedy with an excellent lead role from Cummings himself in one unbroken shot as he dances to the Bruce Springsteen song the film is named after at his mothers funeral.
The feature opens with this same sequence, although the biggest difference is the small pink CD player he uses to play the song from in the original 12 minute short doesn’t work. Instead, Jim dances without music to the bewilderment of the rest of bereaved. Again is an excellent display of Cummings talent as a writer, director and actor in a wonderfully shot unbroken sequence. It would be difficult for the rest of the film to follow up, and whilst not reaching the same heights it still provides a worthy debut.
This is mostly a one man show, not just in that Cummings wrote, director, starred, help edit and played ukulele for the soundtrack, but as the character of Jim as well. There isn’t a scene without him in, which certainly isn’t to the detriment of the piece as the 90 minutes are filled with Jim attempting to deal with his grief and stop the inevitable breakdown of most of his life. Much of the runtime is filled with awkward, The Office / Alan Partridge style humour as the audience flips between squirming in their sits and laughing at Jim’s misfortunes. It helps that he is so engaging, often speaking too much he gets himself into these situations alone and just digs that hole further and further.
That isn’t to say the rest of the cast are forgotten, however, as his daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr) really connects with the 9-10 year old troubles of a child whose parents are divorcing and strongly dislike each other. Her issues as a troubled child are accentuated when Jim meets her teacher Dustin (Macon Blair) in one of the best examples of putting the drama and comedy together with an elegant touch. It would also be egregious to not mention Nican Robinson’s performance as Nate, Jim’s cop partner and only real friend. He really displays the effort that one would need to go through to help someone in Jim’s situation and tolerate his way of dealing with it all, and gets so much across with just his expressions in a very subtle manner.
Much like the short and the opening of the film, there are many long, unbroken sequences throughout. It really emphasises the talent that Cummings has to be able to direct the manner long takes throughout, not just from his acting stand point but the rest of the cast as well (Farr herself keeping up very well), as well as showing off that he has a keen aesthetics eye, with simple but wonderfully engaging visuals, often just slowly moving in on the characters as they talk until the peak of the conversation when he finally cuts into those closeups.
Occasionally we do feel the one-man-show element a tad too much. The outburst at the police department is slightly too long and some of the side characters feel like they needed a bit more screen-time to be fully fleshed out, but Cummings does bring enough levity and talent to outweigh the negative aspects, and leaves us with a short but poignant look at how people deal with grief differently, and a lovely, slightly ambiguous ending that isn’t overly sweet and doesn’t create a perfected ending for Jim, instead giving us a broken man and the elements he needs to rebuild everything we just saw him lose.