DIFF Review: Thunder Road

Jim Cummings gives us an indie darling that is one of the best films of the year’s.

Adapted into a feature length film from a 2016 short film of the same name (which you can watch on Vimeo if you please), Thunder Road is one of the rare films that can successfully combine top notch humor with unflinching familial drama, that amounts to one of the most emotionally resonant cinematic experiences of the year. Thunder Road will continually bring the audience to the point where our eyes’ begin to well up with tears, and then deliver hearty laughs at the last possible second before we completely break down. 

The film follows Officer Jim Arnaud as his life slowly, but surely, falls apart all around him when he loses his mother in the midst of going through a devastating divorce and ensuing custody battle over his daughter, Crystal. Played by Jim Cummings in a performance for the ages, Jim is evidently a man who tries to do right by everybody, but seemingly can never quite put all the pieces together to do so. One might even say he suffers from “Travis Bickle Syndrome,” where he desperately tries to make human connections with those around him, but always manages to mess everything up in the end. This is made glaringly obvious from the opening scene of the film in which Jim eulogizes his mother at her funeral. 

After rambling on in mostly incoherent anecdotes that are more about his personal faults than his mother’s life, Jim explains how his mother used to love Bruce Springsteen because it meant leaving a small town to go on to something better. To honor her memory, he says he’ll perform a dance to Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” but when the CD player, which looks like the same one he probably used when he was 12, doesn’t work, he tries to perform the number with no music. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well, and word of his embarrassing act spreads through town. 

If there is to be a criticism of the film, it would be that the film is slightly hindered by two unnecessary and oddly random plot points at the end of the first and second acts.The first is a plot point that feels ripped from the pages of Taxi Driver, and doesn’t ever feel as resolved as it should be. The later is a visit to a character that had previously been completely absent from the film that shifted the tight focus in a direction that felt a bit forced. However, the aforementioned plot point and scene is done so exceptionally well that it is hard to really criticize them for the time they take up in the grand scheme of the 92 minute film. They add more layers to what is a deeply involved and excellent character study of Jim in ways, but they just feel a bit awkward is all. 

All in all, Thunder Road is an incredible film that is one of the year’s best. The last ten minutes of the film (culminating in a hauntingly beautiful ending scene accompanied by an excellent orchestral cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”) should leave even the emotionally firm viewers of the audience in tears of both sorrow and joy. And even if they don’t, the comedic ride along with Jim should still be fun enough for everybody to make the film enjoyable for anybody who truly loves film and its capabilities.

BY: Quinten Sansosti

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