Writing, acting and directing are aspects that contribute equally to a film’s success, but it takes a legitimate talent to succeed at all three at once. Jim Cummings, Hollywood’s latest triple threat, flexes his skills with his exceptional new film, ‘Thunder Road’.
Based on Cummings’ 2016 short film of the same name, ‘Thunder Road’ is a character study on down on his luck police officer Jim Arnaud, as he comes to terms with the passing of his mother and struggles to bond with his daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr, in her first role). In a stunning twelve-minute long take of his mother’s funeral that opens the film, everything the audience needs to know about Jim is revealed. His eulogy is full of nervous words, tears, apologies and a brimming anger at his mother’s passing. As he battles with a children’s stereo to play a song, the Bruce Springsteen song after which the film is titled, the shot acts as a metaphor for Jim’s life - a man with good intentions, trying his best but never quite succeeding, breaking down at the most inopportune moments (this happens repeatedly through the film). It is impossible not to sympathise and pity Jim in equal measure, dancing without music and facing ridicule as a funeral guest records the entire ordeal on their phone. The opinions of other people get to Jim quite easily; he questions his own intelligence, apologising for every second thing he says, as if he has to alter himself for others. It could have been very easy to paint Jim as a cynical, world-embittered man, but that is not who he is - he is prone to bursts of anger and he might talk before he thinks, but he knows deep down within himself he is a good person.
Despite the bleakness of Jim’s predicament, what elevates ‘Thunder Road’ beyond your typical character study is the perfect balance it strikes between its drama and its more comedic moments, sometimes oscillating between both with perfect precision and timing. The fact that the lead character shares a name with its lead star is not a matter of vanity; Cummings is so in tune with the character, so in tune with the film's tone that it feels as though he has lived through these events himself. The smooth, simple cinematography puts the actors in control of the film, their performances acting as the true driving force, and the authenticity of the film’s protagonist lends itself very favourably towards winning the audience's sympathy. We want to see Jim get his life together, as rocky as that road may be.
The story at times suffers from narrative holes and jumps in logic; for example, one characters substance abuse issues are never even alluded to until they reach breaking point. Such issues with the script hold the audience at arm’s length, holding the film back from bolstering that deep personal connection it's going for (there’s the argument that these are the result of Jim being an unreliable protagonist, as we only see things from his perspective, but in the context of the film these plot holes don’t quite check out). It seems to not matter that some of the supporting cast are not stellar in their roles either; this is well and truly Jim Cummings’ film.
Jim Cummings is a phenomenal talent, both in front of the camera and behind.
‘Thunder Road’ does not push the envelope in terms of filmmaking, its simplistic choices merely acting as a blank canvas which Cummings can make explode with colour through his leading performance. Its compelling depiction of a hardworking man's downward spiral as he keeps it together doesn’t pull its punches, but still manages to be a heartfelt experience. Jim Cummings is a phenomenal talent, both in front of the camera and behind, and we should all be eagerly anticipating what he does next.