Hey, folks! I woke up this morning to Wheels nudging me on Facebook to let me know that he had procured a screener for the lauded Jim Cummings movie THUNDER ROAD. I knew very little about it, but had heard it was a can't miss film, not just from Wheels and the other critics, but from Talkbackers, who early on after it's Austin premiere harped about seeing it properly reviewed here at AICN.
Having sat through the film finally, I can only say how much I wish there had been an opportunity to see it sooner. It's brilliant. Easily my favorite movie of the year. And includes one of my favorite dialogue moments, ever. (A story about two police officers discovering their victim is actually their perp.)
THUNDER ROAD is emotional, surprising, and even challenging at times. I have trouble watching things where the protagonist is cringe-worthy, and Cumming's Officer Arnaud is definitely a cringe-worthy-- but also like-able-- hero. And Cummings is unflinching in showing the scope of Arnaud's humanity. He's an awkward idiot. And, he's a good person. And even when every toxic bit of poison comes spitting out of Arnold at the keystone moment, he remains someone you can root for... someone you want good things for, even as you see he possibly can't manage the struggle ahead of him.
You don't need a lot of set-up to get into the film, because Cummings shows you everything you need to know along the way. And I feel like setting it up will only put the reader in an unfair position. I will say that it is a dramedy-- and an often-uncomfortable one, at that. At times it made me both laugh and cry, apart or simultaneously. It is very emotionally manipulative... but earns it with a great story every step of the way.
In case you do need the background and set-up to try this gem out, here it is...
We meet Officer Jim Arnaud as his life is falling out of focus. He lives in a town that increasingly becoming a dead-end incubator for crime. His selfess mother, a former dancer, has just passed away. (Tthe opening scene is him eulogizing his mother at the service in a way that is both heartbreakingly, achingly beautiful and hysterically funny, too. As he rambles and he tells the attendees that his mother was a top-notch dance instructor and that she used to sing Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" to him at night as a kid, we realize that he intends to play the song and dance for her; when his daughter's pink boombox won't fire up, he tries to carry on explaining the song as he performs a dance to see her off.) Arnaud tells us very plainly that he is not like the attendees, marks himself as an outsider, and indicates early on that he is someone who is not mentally well in his grief... and in the other ways his life has slid out of view.
As we see him on the job, we learn that he's not quite a supercop. He's an average-yet-decorated cop, and he tends to mess up painfully and hilariously on the job, with camera footage in the wind that may embarrass him later. He is a kind, well-meaning fuck-up, something his partner's wife notes at a dinner in a way Arnauld is prescient enough to catch and too wound-up to let go unchallenged. We can tell what kind of detective he might be in that he picks up on the slight, and what kind of man he is that he doesn't become angry but cannot help but awkwardly try to change that view of him.
Arnauld and his wife, Morgan, have separated, and she's starting a new life with the man she left Arnaud for. As he deals with matters of his mother's estate and trying to build a stable, good homelife for Crystal, his young daughter whom he shares custody of, we see how high the stakes are for Arnaud; Crystal has already checked out of the Father/Daughter relationship, and Arnaud must summon his skills to their maximum to tenuously cling to that relationship. But when his wife serves him divorce papers asking for full custody of Crystal and plans a move out of town, Arnaud's tightly-wound facade begins to fall apart, and he unravels.
THUNDER ROAD is terrible and it's beautiful... as much of a jerk as Arnaud can be at times, it is impossible not to care about him, which is the sign of brilliant writing, direction, and performance. Jim Cummings has created something that is not just a classic indie, but something of a higher class than we've seen in cinemas this year; only PUZZLE really comes close to it for me.
THUNDER ROAD is out October 30th-- do not miss it.
-- Precious Roy