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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | April 8, 2020

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Film Review: Thunder Road

Film Review: Thunder Road
Josh Schultz

I was certain that I had come across Jim Cummings prior to watching Thunder Road.

There was something about that simple name, humble face and magnificent mustache that seemed so assuredly familiar that I quickly rushed online to learn where I had seen it before.

Of course, I never found what I was looking for. I haven’t seen any of his shorts nor have I seen No Floodwall Here – Cummings’ only other feature released in 2011.

So why then did I feel this immediate, inexplicable connection when I sat down to watch 2018’s Thunder Road?

Perhaps it’s that, while I may not be familiar with the filmmaker Jim Cummings, I am incredibly familiar with the character of Jim Arnaud.

We meet Jim at a Church somewhere in middle America as he takes his place in front of a gathering of spectators, all there to mourn the passing of Jim’s mother.

Wearing a pristine police uniform to represent the dignity and control that he tries so desperately to project at all times, we watch Jim battle with his emotions for over ten uninterrupted minutes as he attempts to eulogise his late mother.

His speech often trails off on nonsensical tangents, he breaks down then composes himself multiple times and awkwardly performs a self-choreographed dance to his mother’s favourite song, Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. Well, there would have been music if he could get the damn CD player to work.

This opening scene captures the hilarity and tragic humanity that defines Thunder Road. We spend the next hour and a half following this stiff-upper-lipped man of the law as he perilously avoids dealing with the loss of his mother – just like he’s avoided dealing with his pending divorce and the things he witnesses every day as a small town police officer.

Jim Cummings’ efforts both in the lead role and as the film’s director are among the most memorable of recent times – so much so that it’s just one more reason to be disappointed with the results of this year’s awards season.

When Thunder Road’s at its best, the characters, the camera and the editing work in near perfect harmony, thankfully overcoming the pacing issues that begin to plague the film around the hour mark.

Jim Arnaud could so easily have been the incredibly unlikable embodiment of the toxic masculinity that the film wishes to condemn, but Cummings’ performance glows with such honesty that instead we find ourselves rooting for a man both desperate for and deserving of redemption.

It’s equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking watching Jim try to stitch his life back together only to have it fall apart again and again. We’re constantly on the edge of our seats begging Jim to learn the obvious lesson staring him in the face – a lesson that perhaps we all need to be reminded of in times of hardship.

The film hits its peak with a heated confrontation outside the police station where Jim shouts the immortal words, “Talking about your feelings never helped anyone!”

These moments are what made the whole affair seem so familiar. I know Jim, I’ve met him before. Watching Jim is like listening to an Uncle recount the story of the time he drunkenly locked himself out of his own house and had to sleep in the yard. It’s kind of sad, it’s absolutely real and it’s undeniably hilarious. Still, you wish he’d just ask for help.

I don’t live in middle America, yet, I understand Jim Arnaud and the struggle he faces. I understand the story that Jim Cummings clearly needed to tell.

No wonder it’s so easy to feel connected to Thunder Road.