Jim Cummings bitingly funny and profoundly sad THUNDER ROAD has finally come to UK cinemas after its premiere at the 2018 SXSW festival. Having also played in the ACID section at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and numerous other festivals, the film has garnered somewhat of a niche following in the intervening period. Cummings crafts a darkly humorous film, with a sharp, tightly packed script and realistic characters that brush the line between relatability and insanity.
The film starts with Officer Jim Arnaud (played by director Cummings) at his mother’s funeral, where the scene plays out in a jaw-dropping 10-minute-long uncut take. His soon-to-be ex-wife and daughter are there also, gawping at his bizarre eulogy involving incoherent babblings about his childhood, and an amusing silent dance to Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road. From here Cummings lets us into Jim’s life. He lives alone but has his daughter on the weekend: something she lacks any interest for as it’s apparent she prefers living with her mother. The two find some connection, however, playing a game where they slap their hands together in a touching bonding of father-daughter bonding. Not only is it his family that create a mental strain on Jim – through a series of vignettes we see Jim’s work on the force and how incredibly seriously he takes that work.
“The film appears to ask what we would do in Jim’s situation. Although we likely don’t know, it is intriguing to get a glimpse into the endless possibilities of our twisted imaginings that are embodied in Officer Jim.”
There is real darkness in the humour here. In one scene, Jim gets annoyed at a corpse and proceeds to slap it. In THUNDER ROAD, Cummings is able to find humour in even the most horrific incidents in society. It is not mocking humour, however. Instead, it is more reflective and questioning humour. The film appears to ask what we would do in Jim’s situation. Although we likely don’t know, it is intriguing to get a glimpse into the endless possibilities of our twisted imaginings that are embodied in Officer Jim. THUNDER ROAD holds itself upright in a position that seems a perfect blend of END OF WATCH and SUPER TROOPERS.
What truly stands out in this film is Jim Cumming’s performance of a man slowly disintegrating, falling into a dark hole of insane anger and misery. Every scene bursts with an animated, eclectic range of emotions as Cummings screams, sobs and cackles – sometimes within just one soliloquy. Every scene is a new problem for Jim to overcome, and Cummings handles his character with care; never letting him become too absurd or a complete self-parody.
There is warming inclusiveness brought to the screen – as an audience we feel as though we have known Jim his whole life, which makes his downfall even more devastating. What the film boils down to is a story of a man’s desperation to love and be loved back. There is quiet devastation hidden among the many jokes, but this does not mean the film is necessarily sad. In fact, it is something that many films fail to be: it is human.