Meet Jim Cummings: this generation’s Steven Soderbergh and
Kevin Smith and David Gordon Green. A voice that has arrived to shake up and
rattle the cage of independent American cinema. One that aims to help ensure
that there is a future for American cinema outside of the endless blockbuster
fare that all gels into the same gelatinous blob.
With a wealth of
short films under his belt, Cummings brings his immense talent to his second
feature film, Thunder Road. Wearing
all of the hats as writer, director, editor, and actor, Cummings takes the lead
as Officer Jim Arnaud – a man who is mourning the death of his mother, and is
moving forward with his life after a messy divorce and custody battle. To say
that Jim’s life is a bit of a mess is an understatement, and it’s clear that
the toll that this tragedy and trauma has taken on Jim is wearing him down, as
we bear witness to in a searing, unbroken ten minute opening where Jim tries to
eulogise his mother as best as he can in front of an increasingly uncomfortable
church. When the CD player that he’s brought to play Bruce Springsteen’s
Thunder Road fails to work, Jim improvises and soldiers on, acting out the
dance that he was going to perform to the song, shuffling along through tears.
It’s painful to watch, but devastatingly hilarious.
So opens Thunder Road.
What unfurls after this stunning scene is eighty more minutes of superb acting,
downright brilliant writing, and an uncomfortably perfect level of drama and
comedy paired like a fine wine and a perfect steak. Cummings understands and empathises
with Jim Arnaud completely, treading a thin line of embracing and agreeing with
Arnaud’s questionable actions, and judging Arnaud for who he is. This is not a
perfect person – in fact, he’s often reprehensible, but Cummings knows that to
help humanise and qualify Jim Arnaud as someone we should care about, he needs
to show him at points of reflection, when Arnaud realises what he has said and
done. In one darkly comedic moment, Arnaud shouts at his ex that he wishes she
were cleaned up by a freight train, only to have him apologising later on for
uttering such a horrible thing to the mother of his child.
On paper, Arnaud is not someone you would actively want to
empathise with, but under the guidance of Jim Cummings, this is a character
that we are invited to understand and care about. It’s stunning that he manages
to transform a figure of major contention – namely, white police officers in
middle America – into someone who you not only empathise with, but understand
why he is acting the way he does. Often I would find myself laughing, and then
seconds later, crying. The tonal shifts are masterful and deliberately
unsettling. I haven’t experienced this kind of transition between comedy and
drama since the Coen brothers asked us to empathise with the supremely pathetic
Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo, or when P.J.
Hogan and Toni Collette brought the desperate and depressed Muriel Heslop to
life in Muriel’s Wedding. Some may
label this kind of drama comedy as tragi-comedy, but it’s something entirely
Thunder Road is a
profoundly brilliant slice of American independent cinema. There’s a
fascinating, thrilling, exciting kind of revival occurring right now in the
world of American cinema, and Jim Cummings is another vital voice working in
the mix alongside Kogonada (Columbus),
Chloé Zhao (The Rider), Yen Tan (1985), and Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.).
There is a wealth of other great voices out there too, which is why the simple
fact that on the week that one of the biggest films in history being released,
both Thunder Road and 1985 have landed in Australian cinemas.
If you care about cinema as a whole, then it is absolutely vital that you head
along and support these films. While it’s one thing to celebrate the artists
bringing these films to life, it’s another thing to financially get behind them
and support their work while they are in cinemas. We only have ourselves to
blame if we don’t show our support with our dollars and these films aren’t
given life in cinemas.
Director: Jim Cummings Cast: Jim Cummings, Crystal Arnaud, Nican Robinson Writer: Jim Cummings
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