+ Recommended – NR, Comedy, Drama (92 minutes)
Writer-director Jim Cummings’ 13 minute short, Thunder Road, welcomed with a positive response at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, has gotten the feature treatment. Thunder Road, the feature released this year, has more room to breathe and more time to sink its teeth into your exposed, beating heart. If you’re a fan of independent cinema, or what a filmmaker can do with just a camera and a strapping narrative, then you’ve come to the right place.
Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings) grasps onto the fleeting moments in his life in the wake of his mother’s passing and a divorce. Every day presents a new challenge in his life; from the hardships of his work to simple tasks, such as pulling himself out of bed in the morning. It’s a story that seems pseudo-realistic, too focused for pure fiction. While Thunder Road has fictional aspects embedded in the storytelling—most notably the comedic bits—the themes sewn into the fabric of the film are human by nature. Especially touching are the moments shared between Arnaud and his daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr). Arnaud’s past life experiences are scattered throughout the narrative track, and affect the way in which he handles raising his child.
Cummings’ performance captures the aftermath following a particularly heart-rendering loss. When people discuss the stages of grief, it’s important to note that they happen in random sequences; sometimes multiple stages at once. A perfect embodiment of this can be found in the opening eulogy, where Arnaud is speaking on his mother’s behalf. These intense, emotional moments are expressed in a realistic manner. In one single sentence, his train of thought changes and he is faced with yet another emotion that he didn’t expect. In many of these scenes, the camera movement and motion is used sparingly; mainly to slowly zoom into a specific frame or pan about to reveal different spatial elements. Thus, creating a sense of awareness and an extra layer of emotional resonance.
Many performances are enhanced by the previously mentioned slow zoom, and it seems that cinematographer Lowell A. Meyer has a very distinct style when it comes to the treatment of monologues or extended dialogue bits. Very seldom does Cummings, writer, director, star, and editor of Thunder Road, employ rapid cutting to construct a dense atmosphere. Instead, he enhances the deeply rich narrative by relying on a performance driven style; the camera remains focused and ignores many opportunities that would allow for a cut.
It also should be noted that the story isn’t as cut-and-dry as some would make it seem. Yes, there are familiar patterns and story beats, however, at no point is the story entirely finished—much like life. Arnaud witholds many thoughts about his mother that he was so desperate to share with the other characters and the audience is treated to tiny pieces of information about his childhood, and his mother, throughout the entire film. Let’s not forget that the script is on-point. As previously mentioned, the opening scene will knock the wind out of you (in more ways than one). Not only are the lines emotionally taxing, especially for people who’ve battled grief, but I found myself smiling, laughing, and crying all during the same sentence.
So with this review, don’t discount that Thunder Road can, and will, be on the radar when critics and film fans start compiling their year-end lists. Not only does it have a lot of heart, but it carries a certain level of entertainment value that these grimy, character-driven dramas often lack. Whether it be the sharp comedy or the exhilarating performances, Thunder Road will certainly please fans of independent cinema and critics alike.