Thunder Road was a lot.
Advertised as a comedy, I can honestly say I didn’t find it funny, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. The film follows police officer Jim Arnaud, played by Jim Cummings who also wrote and directed the film. It’s an honest and raw portrayal of someone on the verge of a breakdown – his mother has just died, he’s going through a divorce, and he may lose custody of his daughter.
The film is adapted from Cummings’ short film, available to watch here, and was crowdfunded in to production before going on to win the Grand Jury Award at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.
Grief is one of the loneliest conditions, and this man is the embodiment of loneliness. He’s goes to bed fully dressed, with paper and a scanner in bed with him. He settles his mother’s estate and attends the funeral on his own. He’s almost afraid of human connection, refusing dinner invitations from his partner (played by Nican Robinson) and repeatedly telling his boss he’s fine. ‘I’m doing great, if you see a me fighting an alligator, help the alligator.’
When we finally see him connecting with his sister towards the end of the film, being honest and really talking about their loss and relationships with their mother, his sister starts to crack and immediately clams shut, closing conversation and they both retreat in to their shells, as everyone so often does in grief. Its heart breaking as we finally see Jim being honest about how badly he’s coping and the audience know just how much he needs this conversation to happen.
In my own relationship with grief, the biggest comment I received from those in my life was ‘you’re handling it all so well’, with people even going so far as saying they were proud of how I was handling it. They didn’t see the hysterical fits of crying in my car, how I often couldn’t eat as I was so exhausted with grief. Jim doesn’t have this dignity of privacy. Despite his isolation, due to his role as a police officer and the ongoing custody battle, all eyes are on him as he tries to cope – and fails miserably. Random bursts of uncontrollable anger fly in and out of the film, most notably in a parent teacher meeting and a confrontation with his partner outside the police station.
It is in Jim’s outbursts that we see the true ugly nature of grief and the damage keeping it all inside does. He has tried so very hard to keep it together despite losing his marriage, his home, his mother and now his daughter.
Cummings writing and performance is outstanding and I cannot wait to follow his career. The performance is grounded and never campy, and I believed every ounce of sorrow, every contortion of agony in his face, and every tiny subtle win – be it a glass clink with a friend or a hand slap victory with his daughter.
A final note on the amazing character of his partner, who is a quiet calm force, who makes it clear when a line has been crossed and gets the distance he needs, but remembers at his heart; his friend is a good guy who’s just a little bit broken. Shout out to the friends who won’t take no for an answer, and arrive at your door with cards, whiskey and love.
Thunder Road is out in select UK cinemas now.