sat 24/08/2019

Thunder Road review - potent and poignant debut feature | reviews, news & interviews

Thunder Road review - potent and poignant debut feature

Thunder Road review - potent and poignant debut feature

A triumph for Jim Cummings as writer, director and lead actor

A man on the edge: Jim Cummings as Jim Arnaud

This is a painful and poignant study of character-disintegration, and a triumph for its writer, director and star Jim Cummings. He plays small-town police officer Jim Arnaud, a man trying to do his best while a rising sea of troubles threatens to drown him.

Thunder Road is based on Cummings’s original 12-minute film, which won him the Short Film Grand Jury prize at the 2016 Sundance Festival. This provides the material for the opening scene, a daringly extended single shot in which Jim delivers the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. Despite looking pressed and formal in his police uniform, inside Jim is a raw tangle of grief, guilt, anger and confusion. He works his way through all of them in a performance which keeps threatening to collapse as he switches manically between misery and mania, but somehow keeps staggering on. It peaks with his attempt to sing his mother’s favourite song, Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”, but the music player won’t work and Jim ends up delivering a free-form dance interpretation (his mother had been a dancer, but not like this). The assembled mourners exchange eye-rolling looks which speak volumes about Jim’s mental condition.

As the narrative follows the routine of Jim’s disordered life, it picks out clues about how he has veered off the rails. Jim has a brother and sister who he rarely sees, and his only real friend is his police partner Nate Lewis (Nican Robinson), who’s also his sole connection to the better, brighter days he enjoyed before his marriage went bad. He’s divorced from his wife Rosalind (Jocelyn deBoer) and they share custody of their smart but disturbed daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr, pictured below).

Jim is desperate to be a loving parent, but he’s either neurotically over-protective of Crystal or crushed with shame at his own fatherly inadequacies. A visit to her teacher, who explains as tactfully as possible that Crystal is a disruptive student with reading difficulties, sends Jim into a fresh spasm of self-loathing because he thinks he’s passed his own dyslexia on to his daughter. His burst of rage gets the teacher ducking for cover.

Jim’s a man on the edge, or even over it, but we can see that beneath his chaotic exterior there’s a good guy struggling to get out. He has been decorated for his police work, and the way he rescues a teenage girl from the attentions of a couple of “slickers” in the back seat of a car suggests that he has a strict moral code which he carries into his professional life.

Jim’s progress is a painful illustration of the way that once the odds start stacking against you, everything that can go wrong duly does. A court hearing about child custody turns disastrous when Jim talks back to the judge. An argument with Nate blows up out of control, and ends with Jim becoming an ex-policeman. Yet, in the end, Cummings finds a glimmer of hope, taking his cue from the Boss’s titular song: “It’s a town full of losers, we’re pulling out of here to win.”

 

 

Once the odds start stacking against you, everything that can go wrong duly does

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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