Jim Cummings wrote, directed, and stars in Thunder Road (2018), which is available to stream if you have a subscription for Amazon Prime at the time of this review. It is a risk to take on so many roles in a feature project, but Cummings clearly had a vision for the story and the character – and he absolutely nails it. It takes a few minutes to completely grasp the tone he is going for, but if you’re on board for the tragic comedy that is Officer Jim Arnaud’s current state, it’s one entertaining and engaging ride.
Thunder Road will challenge you with what you are supposed to feel
Thunder Road starts just like the short film by the same name with Officer Jim at his mother’s funeral. He’s called up to say a few words – and right away, his awkwardness is apparent. When it becomes clear that he’s prepared a dance in his mothers honor, the comedy starts to really set in. In the original short, Jim sings along with Bruce Springsteen’s song “Thunder Road”, but in the feature film, the CD player won’t work, and he’s forced to do a narrative telling of the song’s story while still doing his dance. As if this scene doesn’t establish the bad way that Jim is in after the loss of his mother, it also shows that he’s going through a divorce and a subsequent custody battle. The tragedy is in the premise, but the comedy is in the writing and the performance.
It seems that Jim struggles with most of the relationships in his life. We are told that he is a good police officer, though many of the chances we get to see him in this role prove to be contrary. However, it is established with certainty that he is not currently in a good place mentally, and that it is clearly having a negative impact on his life. Even his partner, Officer Nate Lewis (Nican Robinson), seems to be having a hard time getting Jim to be himself. Every attempt Nate makes is almost immediately rebuked by Jim, as though he’s too busy or just doesn’t have enough time. It’s hard to tell how close they are at first, but through the course of the film, it becomes apparent that Nate is more than just his partner; he’s his only close friend. This is established early on from Nate’s point-of-view, when we’re told that he threw a cell phone which recorded Jim’s meltdown at the funeral into a lake – but we don’t truly see Jim reciprocate the friendship for a large section of the film. Nonetheless, their bond is one of my favorite aspects of the movie by its end.
The crucial relationship is the one between Jim and his daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr). Crystal is quite young, and she clearly struggles to connect with her dad. It turns out that she’s struggling in school, and that leads to my favorite scene – mostly because Macon Blair plays the teacher, Mr. Dustin Zahn. Jim loses it, and leaves Mr. Zahn clearly shaken yet composed as he slowly removes a pair of scissors from a nearby desk and puts them in his pocket. While this scene is great, it’s an earlier one that proves Jim’s dedication.
Another really endearing scene starts with a sad one, when Crystal tries to teach Jim a clapping game – and he insists he’s just not good at this sort of thing. She goes to bed, and Cummings gives us one of the most invent cuts in the film; a match cut from a purple marker to a closing syrup lid. Crystal sits Jim down and insists they try the clapping game again. To her (and our own) surprise, he nails it this time. She nods approvingly, and the camera reveals a paper with purple hands taped to a nearby wall, with a chair in front of it. This scene is great for both Jim as a character, and Cummings as the writer.
Thunder Road is definitely a showcase of Cummings’s talents, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s a very entertaining movie that does a great job of paying off its earlier setups. You’ll likely laugh a lot, and even tear up in a few scenes. Cummings manages to craft an empathetic character that you can’t help but root for. Thunder Road earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.