‘Thunder Road’ is the standout indie film of the year
Ryan Israel | Friday, November 30, 2018
Everybody handles grief differently. Few people, however, handle grief by performing an interpretive dance set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” at a somber funeral. But it’s actions like this that make Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings), who serves as the centerpiece and driving force of the film named after the Springsteen song, a captivating and intensely human character.
“Thunder Road” begins with Arnaud mourning the loss of his mother and the sadness does not stop there. Arnaud’s life is plagued with struggles. He and his wife (Joceyln DeBoer) are at odds, beginning the emotionally draining process of divorce and are constantly at each other’s throats. Their daughter Crystal (Kendall Farr), caught in the middle of this, is emotionally distant from her father and struggling with her own issues in the classroom. And to top it all off, Arnaud is a police officer, attempting to handle a stressful job while still grieving his mother and trying to do right by his daughter.
At times, Arnaud is overwhelmed by these forces. He breaks out into seemingly uncontrollable fits of anger and frustration that are shocking and almost scary. He cries more than once, his tears combining with painful facial expressions that convey an intense grief. But these moments are understandable given the way in which his world has been rattled by the loss of his mother and the potential loss of his daughter.
Yet it is nearly impossible not to root for Arnaud. His quest to be the best possible police officer, father, son and friend is clear throughout the film and incredibly admirable. He emerges as a common man with a heart of gold, fighting against a depressing world as best as he can. Occasionally, he needs some help, and his partner, Officer Nate Lewis (Nican Robinson), is there to offer it. But throughout “Thunder Road,” it is Arnaud’s humanity that shines and defines the film.
The captivating character of Arnaud, and the film as a whole, is an early sign of the genius of Jim Cummings. “Thunder Road” is the debut feature film for Cummings, who serves as the film’s writer, director and lead actor. As a director, Cummings utilizes long, drawn out shots that allow conversations to reach their emotional potential and give weight to Arnaud’s occasional monologues.
As a writer, Cummings expertly balances drama and comedy throughout the entire film. It’s hard to imagine laughing at a film with such a dour subject matter, yet moments of comedy manage to cut through the tension. This is often accomplished by Arnaud’s offhand remarks, such as “If you see me wrestling an alligator, help the alligator,” which not only add humor, but also expand the character of Arnaud. At its core “Thunder Road” is a drama, yet Cummings’ writing makes it so much more.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to see “Thunder Road” in theaters. The film, which could be classified as an “indie” flick, debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Since then it has made the rounds at a number of other film festivals and received a wide release in France. In America, however, burdened by the film industry’s complex distribution system, “Thunder Road” has received only a limited release. But thanks to the internet, you can watch “Thunder Road” for less than the price of a movie ticket via Amazon; and you should watch it, because it’s one of the best films of 2018.