Chances are, Jim Cummings is a name you've not yet heard of, but it's one that you may slowly begin to familiarise yourself with in the near future, and that's down to the success of his first feature film, Thunder Road.
Not only is this his first feature film, it's his first as a director, writer, and actor. Basing the feature on his short film of the same name three years back. The short film, exploring a police officer's unique grieving method during his mother's funeral in one long take. This short is both comedic, heartbreaking, and incredibly engaging with Jim's performance.
With the feature film, Thunder Road begins no different, exploring the same concept within the first twelve minutes, and then progressing into something much more in the form of one police officer's struggles to be a good father during issues at work and during a divorce.
Despite its more serious tones, Thunder Road is a film that thrives on its darker comedic style, using negative events and a fragile protagonist -- one that's certainly good at heart, but perhaps a bit too good for his own good among an unforgiving world -- to poke fun at the ways in which the character reacts and attempts to solve arising issues. We see a police officer with a passion for his job, but coming to the realisation that life is fragile and that he doesn't have much more than his child and soon-to-be divorced wife.
Thunder Road thrives in its ability to display heartbreaking narratives, showing a realistic depiction of the ways in which one would adapt and deal with blow after blow. A slow decline into what appears to be total isolation and giving up. In its indie manner, the narrative paces itself in a way that has us really feeling for the protagonist and waiting for things to begin to pick up; they don't.
One could see this as a realistic tale of life and its own fragility, extending beyond fiction and character and into a very human issue we all face: an ability to find humour in not only our own worst moments, but the worst moments of others. It's an interesting level of disconnect to witness, and once understood, forms empathy.
What's incredibly fascinating is that you feel these emotions from the start with his monologue, a slow forward movement of the camera through a small ceremony as we learn of his character. His transition from ramblings on Bruce Springsteen to embarrassingly dancing to the song Thunder Road in front of everyone. From here, we are told of the significance of Bruce Springsteen's music in both the narrative and character's life.
The quote "Bruce Springsteen meant leaving your small town and doing something with your life" is something that comes back to us numerous times throughout the narrative, the protagonist's own belief and wishes for his daughter to be able to do the same and escape the small town in the south, being nothing like him or her mother and making the best of things. This only makes the film more tragic as we see the slow decline in his own lifestyle and inability to escape it. In a way, that quote comes back to us all, despite the reality and inability to act on it.
Jim Cumming's is certainly everything this film needs to make it succeed. He's the passion, the thriving force progressing things forward, and it's surprising to see for a first-time feature filmmaker. It oozes soul and has you wanting more despite the relatively paper-thin narrative. It's about Jim's character, it's all about Jim, despite the additional elements that come and go. That's what makes it so special: it gives you just enough of everything, and then it leaves you. You're left with the passion, the shock of an excellent performance, the surprise of a truly unique independent film, and as a new fan of Jim Cummings.