Thunder Road Review


Jace Henderson, Graphics Editor

Every year, usually multiple times a year, there comes a few weeks in the cinematic release schedule where nothing in the box office seems to impress. Though the month started and ended off strong with the superhero spectacles of “Shazam!” and “Avengers: Endgame,” the two week gap in the middle only contained a loose assortment of fairly forgettable films. Nothing good enough to recommend to all your close friends, and nothing bad enough to be hilariously entertaining. It almost seems as if every release in the middle of April is doomed to be as forgettable and bland as possible before being drowned out by the next big “Avengers” film.

The mid-April mediocrity I originally decided to view and review this month was 2019’s “Hellboy,” the cinematic reboot of Guillermo Del Toro’s 2004 film of the same name, both based off the comic of the same name. However, after watching Neil Marshall’s stupidly ultra-violent death metal cover of Del Toro’s original film, I decided that maybe doing my monthly review on “Hellboy” wouldn’t be worth the effort put into it.

There’s not much to say about “Hellboy,” really. If you’re dying to know my opinions, in short, 2019’s “Hellboy” is an utter waste of time. Not the worst movie in the world but utterly forgettable in every meaning of the word. The story is sloppy, the editing is choppy, and the characters just seem like bland and annoying versions of their Del Toro and comic counterparts. It’s no surprise that the film marketing itself solely on its R rating is bad, but it’s shocking to see that a bloody, gory R rating was the only thing “Hellboy” has going for it. When put up to its originals, it simply has no reason to exist. Put it into numbers, it’s a 2/10. The only shred of true entertainment that could come out of it would perhaps be poking fun at the ludacris and overly visceral action with a few friends, but that’s it.

However, this article is not about “Hellboy.” No, instead of reviewing yet another mediocre or downright bad blockbuster film for the umpteenth time, this month it’s time to shine a light on a smaller film. A film whose sole creator, wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and scored himself. A film whose budget caps off at a measly $190,000. A film that is far less popular, but deserves far more recognition, than anything such as the likes of “Hellboy.”

“Thunder Road” is this film, a one-man passion project originally built off the director’s previous short film of the same name. “Thunder Road” was turned into a full length feature, originally delegating itself only to small film festivals in early 2018, but is just now releasing on several streaming platforms in early 2019.

“Thunder Road” follows Texas patrolman Jimmy Arnaud, (played by the director Jim Cummings), who desperately tries to get his life in shape, struggling with divorce and rekindling his relationship with his daughter, following the recent death of his mother. It’s a sad film guised under the thin veneer of a comedy, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but those who do take the dive will surely find a masterclass performance wrapped up in a heart-wrenching, funny and unforgettable character piece on dealing with the loss of a loved one.

It’s really not to be understated how well Cummings does in his film. Jim Arnaud comes across as a fantastically three-dimensional character. He’s a likeable guy and a good man at heart, but it’s clear he struggles with relationships and dealing with his anger issues. He’s the kind of person to make jokes at his own expense, and it’s obvious that he has no idea how to handle this chapter of his life, dealing with the reality in which he lost his mother and might lose his daughter.

He breaks into tears often, usually accompanying it with an angry, sorrowful rant or outburst, before switching back and forth between that and a more lighthearted tone on the flip of a dime. He’s a fascinatingly flawed character, and he’s portrayed beautifully. In the film’s short 90 minute run time, the audience feels like they really know Jim and they begin to empathize with him and his struggles. Cummings had the chance to easily turn Jim into a Adam Sandler-esque caricature of the “cop who cries a lot,” but the filmmaker goes further than that, grounding him in reality and making him a truly understandable figure.
The film also features a smattering of other performances, none of them coming near close to Cummings’ act, but as supporting characters that’s not really expected of them. The most noteworthy of these supporting performances surprisingly comes from Jim’s daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr), a fourth grade child actor who’s performance is surprisingly not terrible, something that’s quite the achievement for a small film of this size and budget. Kendal’s performance was not only believable but actually served the film’s script quite well, presenting a child who seems about as lost as her father.

Aside from the performances, however, the technical aspects of the film also impress. Considering its miniscule budget, the film manages to look and sound far above its paygrade, featuring a handful of impressive examples of cinematography and editing. Long, uncut takes go on for minutes on end, the opening scene being the most impressive of the bunch, being a 12 minute long, uncut shot that encompasses the entirety of the original short film it was based on. There’s other such examples of clever cinematography, such as a scene where a slow zoom helps the experience in order to reveal a character’s appearance or a two-way phone-call scene where the actions happening in the background not only serve to make the scene feel more natural, but also cleverly reveal the characters’ state in life and their relationships with each other.
These scenes are mainly helped by the film’s writing, which is not just well written in understanding its own budget and limitations, but it’s easy to tell the script actually cares about its own characters.

Production-wise, the only real issue I had were a handful of actors whose performances didn’t quite sell me as much as the others, and the film’s score. Not because the scoring was bad. In fact, it was quite all right considering Cummings was also the one composing the music, but its simple, single instrument songs were the only aspect that didn’t impress me. When everything else in the film performs way over budget, it’s sad when the music is the only aspect that reminds you that you’re watching a low budget film.

Still, the film is fairly fantastic overall. I relished getting to watch it for a second time, and there were plenty of small details and aspects of repetition and reincorporation that I missed on my first watch. It’s a film that succeeds in being both hilarious and darkly emotional, in most cases it’s usually in the same scene. It’s not a film for everybody, but if anything here piqued your interest then I recommend that you experience the film for yourself. The film is easily accessible on iTunes or YouTube, and is free with Amazon Prime. It’s one of the best film debuts in years and is an exhilarating and painfully personal cinematic experience.