Sunday, 15 September 2019

Thunder Road ★★★★★


Last October, I spent a couple of weeks in the capital for the BFI London Film Festival. As I whiled away the hours seeing such future Oscar-hits as The Favourite, Green Book and others, one film eluded me – but I was hearing its name everywhere I went. It wasn’t any of the festival programme’s ‘big’ titles. It didn’t feature any big movie stars or a famous director. It wasn’t anything I’d ever even heard of before. It was a little film called Thunder Road. I kept hearing it. What was this mysterious film that everybody seemed so enraptured by?

Beginning as a short film in 2016 which was adapted into this feature-length version of the same name on a microbudget of $200,000 raised on Kickstarter, the comedy-drama stars writer/director/composer/co-editor Jim Cummings as a police officer from Texas who deals with the death of his mother while giving a heartfelt eulogy at her funeral. Finding himself on the edge, and trying to forge a stronger connection with his daughter, he keeps getting in his own way as he attempts to find light in the darkness of his life. There is no other plot to speak of – this is a character study through and through, focusing on the minutiae of life.


The film is almost a one-man-show, with Cummings present throughout the entire film as his mental state declines. It is difficult viewing – while it does often go for a zany, eccentric and humorous approach, there’s no denying that this is a powerful and poignant portrayal of a breakdown. Cummings’ performance is an absolute marvel – a tour-de-force that, in any other universe, would’ve been front and centre during all of the 2019 awards seasons. This is truly Oscar calibre work from a relative unknown who commands your attention with every frame, wildly portraying every emotion under the sun. The opening 15 or so minutes, which is effectively a remake of the short film on which Thunder Road is based, follows our hero has attempts to deliver a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. While amusing in places, it is upsetting. Should we laugh at him, with him, or not at all? It’s a difficult watch – but sometimes life is like that. We feel for this character we have only just met because he feels so alive. The film feels so real.

That’s not to say it isn’t cinematic – but there’s something about this film that is so powerfully engrossing and immersive that you will feel like you are watching real-life unfold. Playing out almost like theatre with no big set-pieces, Thunder Road is a truly mesmerising piece of work. I don’t remember the last time I was so engrossed and on the edge of my seat at such a quiet, understated film.

 Jim Cummings proves himself as an absolute master of everything he does on the production – writing, directing and acting being his key responsibilities. Everything about Thunder Road defies expectations and absorbs you with a powerful grip, not letting go until the final frame. I now understand why everybody at London Film Festival was so enraptured by this quirky and powerful mini-masterpiece. It truly is an exceptional piece of work and one that earns my highest recommendation. 5/5

★★★★★
Sam Love



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Saturday, 14 September 2019

Dragged Across Concrete ★★★★★


Over the last few years, filmmaker S. Craig Zahler has proven himself to be one of the shining lights of modern cinema. With just Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, he has defied expectations with richly plotted and viscerally violent drama and given actors like Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Vince Vaughn and Don Johnson their finest roles in years. He is absolutely one of the key filmmakers to watch at the moment, so his latest film is definitely worth discussing. Don’t let the casting fool you – yeah, that’s Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn as a pair of police officers – this is one of the finest films of the year.

At 159 minutes, it’s certainly a pretty meaty film. We follow the escapades of two cops - one an old-timer (Gibson), the other his volatile younger partner (Vaughn), who find themselves suspended when a video of their strong-arm tactics become the media's cause du jour. Low on cash and with no other options, these two embittered soldiers descend into the criminal underworld to gain their just due but instead find far more than they wanted awaiting them in the shadows. With a title like Dragged Across Concrete and a filmmaker like Zahler behind the lens, you know that this is going to be a grim ride. But while it does certainly pack some pretty violent punches, this is a slow-burning character study more than anything.


Our two leads – Brett (Gibson) and Anthony (Vaughn) are complex, layered characters. While their ultraviolent behaviour is not glamorised, it is also not particularly condemned. This film, if nothing else, is a stark observation of modern America and corruption in the police force. The film does not make any real attempt to explain or comprehend this sort of behaviour, but rather take a look at the sort of people who engage in it. We are dropped right in with these vulgar characters and over the two and a half hour runtime, we don’t gain any respect for them whatsoever. But we do gain something of an understanding, thanks to two stellar performances and an incredible screenplay from director Zahler. 

This is a pitch-black drama with absolutely no light, joy or anything resembling happiness or fulfilment in the characters. We are in a dark, twisted world – but isn’t that the world we live in? This shadow-soaked film is very much a modern-day noir with dishonest, violent characters galore and absolutely no redeeming characters that you feel any sort of connection to. And yet, you cannot look away. This is one of the most engrossing and hypnotic films I’ve seen in a long time, and yet also one of the most depressing, harrowing and vile.

Dragged Across Concrete is, therefore, a difficult film to review. Some people will watch it and be disgusted, shocked and appalled. They will be sickened that I have this much positive stuff to say about it. But I stand by it. I do not for one-second stand by the characters’ actions, motives or behaviour – but the performances, writing and directing here is absolutely first-rate. S. Craig Zahler continues to prove himself as one of the finest filmmakers working today and I for one cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

★★★★★
Sam Love

Dragged Across Concrete at CeX


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