Review: ‘Thunder Road’ is an Intimate Character Study of the Common Man

Jim Cummings’ delivers on his Kickstarter promise with an Indie hit.

RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)

Indie movies are a labor of love. They are low budget passion projects made with the blood, sweat, and tears of filmmakers who believe these stories are ones that need to be told. This is a risky move for filmmakers, but it’s a gamble that can lead to an incredibly rewarding endgame. Such is the story of Thunder Road, one of the sleeper hits from this year’s Nashville Film Festival.

Thunder Road was originally a 12-minute short film that circulated the film festival circuit in 2016. It garnered many accolades, including the Grand Jury Prize from Sundance. It ended up on many best shorts of 2016 and best short films ever made lists. As with most short films, they serve as a proof of concept to expand its story into a feature length film. After running a successful Kickstarter campaign, which more than tripled its goal, Thunder Road was turned in a 91-minute feature length film.

Written, directed, and performed by Jim Cummings, Thunder Road is an incredibly human story about the suffering of an everyday man. Cummings plays Officer Arnaud, who is eulogizing his late mother at the beginning of the film. The first scene of the film is a ten minute unbroken shot, with camera subtlety creeping its way towards Cummings as he unravels while delivering a painful eulogy. This scene sets up for the unflinching look the film takes at a broken man who continues to break.

Officer Arnaud is not a perfect man. He has split custody of his daughter, who would much rather be with her mother. The relationship with his ex-wife is strained, and that is putting it mildly. He has a good rapport with his partner, but sometimes his anger affects their working relationship. If Thunder Road is a character study, its biggest strength is the amount of empathy it places on a man who can’t take the right step no matter how hard he tries.

The film is drenched with the making of existentialist novels from centuries past. Its philosophies aren’t laid bare for an audience, but watching these characters operate through such strained relationships does pose the question of what it all really is about. This is the greatest strength of the film, being a simple story that evokes so much emotion from its complex character.

The film is not without its faults. The biggest issues being with such a short run time it the film does feel like an extended companion piece to the original short film. There are some scenes that hint at why Arnaud is how he is, and how his family influenced his behavior and defined his faults. Just a few more scenes would have flushed this character out to his full potential and elevate this film to being a true indie masterpiece.

Thunder Road is a delight with how surprisingly good it is. The film nails just how raw and uncomfortable it is to watch a grown man cry. This film deserves to be picked up and distributed for a wider audience. When the Kickstarter for the feature met its goal within 7 hours of the campaign being live, its clear that there is audience for the film. If you haven’t seen the original short film, you can check it out here.   When this film eventually gets a distribution plan, it is a must see for fans of indie sweetheart films.