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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