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Film Review: Thunder Road

29 May 19 words: Derry Shillitto

Actor, writer, director and all-round force of nature Jim Cummings has turned his award-winning short Thunder Road into a feauture-length film that is screening at Broadway Cinema from this Friday... 

Director: Jim Cummings

Starring: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson

Running time: 92 mins

“If you learn how to shoot, edit, and distribute, you have become a studio. Don’t wait to be taken seriously, take yourself seriously.”

Jim Cummings, the actor, writer and director of Thunder Road, should indeed be taken seriously. His debut feature film is an example of how independent financing and distribution can be done successfully. In 2016, his short film of the same name wrestled with a variety of conflicting tragic and comic emotions that left audiences exhausted, hysterical and slightly sick from outbursts of guilt-filled laughter. To convert a short story that felt whole and complete into a longer one could be a hard task. What makes this feature-length Thunder Road as entertaining and refreshing as it is, is Cummings' dedication to the nuances and intricacies of his protagonist. Officer Jim Arnaud could be a character created by Armando Iannucci or Steve Coogan; Jim Cummings has a complete understanding of who Arnaud is and what his place is in the world.

Despite having no formal acting training, Jim Cummings puts in a performance of pure understanding: only he could bring this character to life within the confines of this film

Arnaud is distraught about the loss of his mother, a dedicated dance teacher. He doesn’t quite understand how to eulogise his late mother, so instead performs a dance routine to the song Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. This punishing, yet hilarious and rewarding opening scene sets a tone which is offbeat and darkly comic. Some audiences may find it hard to get a grasp on the central character as we go on to explore his day-to-day life as a separated father and a police officer in a small Southern US town. Jim must now find a connection with his daughter whilst trying to postpone his inevitabile mental breakdown. There is a plot, but where the film finds most success is in its observation of true humanity, the character interactions with Jim are often tragic, hilarious and ultimately optimistic (albeit in a perverse way).

This is one of the most refreshing explorations of a character struggling with masculinity I’ve seen in a film since Bad Lieutenant and, oddly enough, you could say Jim Arnaud is a dorky, slightly more pathetic version of Harvey Keitel's Lieutenant. Whereas Bad Lieutenant is dark and humourless, Thunder Road has that rare ability to make you choke on your tears as you laugh your head off. Despite having no formal acting training, Jim Cummings puts in a performance of pure understanding: only he could bring this character to life within the confines of this film. There are moments where the choices Jim makes will prove to be very divisive and, although Cummings performance is deliberately off-kilter, I personally felt the majority of the comedic and dramatic moments worked. This is bold, ambitious independent filmmaking and it is quite clear that Cummings has made the film that he and his team wanted to make. The future for truly independent film is uncertain but the team behind Thunder Road have proven that, if you have a great character, an engaging story and a relentless amount of determination, you will get your film into cinemas across the world.

Did you know? Made back its £150,000 budget and then some in its first week playing in 67 theatres in France, where it was a sleeper hit.

Thunder Road is screening at Broadway Cinema from Friday 31 May

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