Jim Cummings lays it all on the line in an opening scene shot in a single take that is as funny as it is sad and embarrassing to watch. As every well made film should do it encapsulates what’s to come - in this case it is the downfall of a good man unable to deal with the loss of his recently departed mother. Thunder Road is practically a one-man show as the actor also wrote and directed a film that has been expanded on from his 2016 short of the same name.
It’s hardly a performance anyone could’ve seen coming this year given Cummings' sparse CV to date. Many of his credits appear as producer with a small role on The Handmaid’s Tale the most notable in front of the camera before the release of his debut film. He has been developing his craft over the last decade with a number of short films and Thunder Road shows it has all paid off - hopefully his hard work will be recognised widely enough for him to secure funding for another project sooner rather than later.
Cummings stars as local Texas police officer Jim Arnaud. The aforementioned opening scene sees him standing in front of his mother's coffin delivering a eulogy while friends and relatives listen on. The title takes its name from the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, a favourite of Jim’s mother. We never get to hear it as the CD player isn’t working and it’s one of many cringeworthy moments that turn what was supposed to be a special moment into one to forget (for those present at least).
Arnaud is a man on the edge and as the days and weeks tick by a complete meltdown seems inevitable. His young daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr), can barely stand spending time with him and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer), is applying for full custody, half his wage and pension, and is planning to move hundreds of miles away with their young one in tow. It all sounds like a tragedy in the making but somehow Cummings manages to walk the fine line between comedy and drama with relative ease.
There are shades of Jim Carrey to his performance, not only with small vocal inflections but his tendency to lash out as he veers into emotionally wild mood swings. As demonstrated in the first ten minutes of the film Cummings is able to seamlessly switch from comedic delivery into a broken man in need of a shoulder to sob into. It’s hard to think of many actors who have done so with such balance without losing the power of one over the other, and it makes Cummings’ wiry presence all the more captivating.
Oddly enough, the strengths of Thunder Road are what ultimately lets it down a little. It feels like too much of a one-man show and although it acts as the perfect showcase for an actor-writer-director of real talent, seeing more of those in Jim’s orbit would strengthened this character even further. This is particularly true of the relationship with his daughter which is supposed to act as an emotional throughline that leads to an important final scene. We don’t see enough of Jim and Crystal together for the pay-off to hold the weight it should have, and that's a shame because young Kendall Farr seems to have a real spark about her whenever she is on screen.
There are plenty of laughs to be had in Thunder Road, without forgetting to show enough warmth and compassion towards its tragicomic figure despite the jokes made at his expense. It will also hopefully mark the arrival of Jim Cummings who proves he has a fantastic sense of comic and dramatic timing and a natural charisma you would assume will now be given a chance to shine elsewhere. Here he gives us a character we can all get behind, and an introduction to his abilities that won't be easy to forget.
There are still tickets available to watch Thunder Road at this year's London Film Festival and you can buy them on the BFI website.
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