Short movies can often be a launchpad into a feature filmmaking career, though its rare to see it evolve in the way it has for Thunder Road. Jim Cummings’ 2016 short saw him play a grief-stricken cop, eulogising at his mother’s funeral. He ends up dancing in front of the mourners to Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road – a moment as funny as it is painful to watch. Now writer-director-star Cummings brings this character to a feature-length movie, using the short as a template.
The film begins with the same funeral scene, albeit with one crucial (and tough-to-take) twist on how the short played out. The moustachioed Arnaud is a man laid low by grief, as well as life itself. In the midst of a nasty divorce from his troubled wife Rosalind (Jocelyn DeBoer) and a custody battle over their daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr), he’s also screwing up at work. Emotions are getting the better of him, and when his superior tells him to take time off, he doesn’t react well.
With a title like Thunder Road, you might assume this is going to be a police procedural, with Arnaud on the trial of a deadly killer. But nothing could be further from the truth, in a story that will surprise – and sometimes – confound you. It’s not an easy watch; Arnaud is a hard and not always pleasant character to spend time with, but Cummings gives a virtuoso performance as a vulnerable man whose whole life is unravelling in a few short days.
Winning the Grand Jury prize at the South By South West festival in 2018, Thunder Road also sees Cummings also edit and compose the music, a factor you suspect comes of working with a very low-budget. It’s an impressive one-man band act, though arguably he could do with others around him to bounce ideas from. Featuring Macon Blair – the star of Blue Ruin and Green Room – in support, it’s an acquired taste, but one that will appeal to those looking for something beyond the standard genre fare that so often passes for first-time films.
Thunder Road opens on 31 May. For more details, visit Vertigo Releasing.
1. All stills from Thunder Road.