by Tanner Kinney
It’s not surprising to see someone double-up between roles during productions of a film. Writer and director, director and producer, actor and producer, writer and actor; a lot of these roles tend to find people taking multiple of them. The trouble comes when some directors try to take on every role possible. A famous example of this is The Room, which is written, directed, produced, and performed by Tommy Wiseau. Neil Breen also does this for many of his films. They tend to turn into vanity projects where the director in question wants to make themselves appear the greatest man on Earth, even if they can’t deliver on that.
This makes writer/director/actor Jim Cummings (no, not the Winnie the Pooh voice actor) all the more impressive, considering Thunder Road is bizarre, hilarious, and fascinating in an actually intentional way.
Thunder Road follows Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings), a man who’s life slowly falls apart over the course of the film’s 92 minute length. Starting with the funeral of his mother, Jim faces a messy divorce, an unloving daughter, a falling out with co-workers, getting fired from his job, and losing custody to his junkie ex-wife. In this film, everything that can go wrong will go wrong for Officer Jim, and it all goes wrong in such a captivating way. This lead role would typically be a tough one to play in a way that an audience member can both sympathize with him, but also understand that everything bad that happens is his fault. Yet, this feat is achieved by an incredible performance from the lead.
Jim Cummings manages to make this awkward, emotional wreck of a character painfully real. Having a movie open on a roughly seven-minute eulogy featuring a generous amount expletives, bipolar fits of crying and joy, and a choreographed dance routine to no music playing would be horribly uncomfortable in most films, but in the grand scheme of Thunder Road, it’s not even the weirdest thing our lead does does. We spend every almost every moment of this film with Jim and the effort he makes to repair his life and his relationships, along with all of his failures. It’s hard not to be sympathetic. The other performances are pretty great as well, with the daughter (Kendall Farr) being a breakout star, proving it is entirely possible to get a good child actor in a film.
Another great part of this film is the cinematography, which works perfectly for the film. There’s a great variety of shots, and particularly a lot of long takes on Jim Cummings ranting and raving at various points. The opening sequence is one of my favorite shots in the movie, particularly because it establishes the tone of the movie and its gritty, realistic style while still managing to not be headache inducing with shaky-cam. The scene with Jim talking to his daughter’s teacher is also great for similar reasons, but with more subtle features that make is something else.
That still leaves one aspect which is this film’s heart: the writing and narrative. The writing, particularly the comedy elements of the film, is perfect in how it is on a razor’s edge between comedy and tragedy. The terrible things that happen to Officer Jim aren’t funny, but his responses to them are. There’s an absurdist nature in the writing of this film that makes it so engaging to sit through from start to finish.
At its core, though, Thunder Road is about family, and that’s what makes it so powerful. Officer Jim desperately tries to keep what little family he has left together, but things are falling apart around him as he struggles to pick up the pieces. Even his personal relationships with friends are falling apart despite his best efforts. His attempts to connect with his daughter are heart-warming, even though his daughter isn’t very receptive.. The ending is also touching and emotional, with Officer Jim and his daughter finally connecting with each other despite tough circumstances surrounding them. It’s a beautiful little story, and all of the pieces together make it so surprising it won SXSW.
Featured Image: Heartland
‘Thunder Road’ is a perfect storm of uncomfortable situations, endearing humor, great filmmaking, and fantastic performances that add up to create an overall masterpiece of a film. Jim Cummings proves himself as a director who can take on many roles in the production without any of the elements being soured. It’s wild ride, but it is all worth it in the end. If you ever get a chance, take a drive on ‘Thunder Road.”
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.