Thunder Road (2018) is an indie film about emotionally volatile small-town police officer Jim Arnauld (Jim Cummings) grieving the death of his mother and trying his best to raise his daughter by the same parental standards impressed on him by her. A significant element to the film, present from the very beginning, is the absence of the song that gives the film its title, one which has great significance to Jim. Although this may seem counterintuitive it actually makes a great deal of sense in the context of the song being a source of solace for Jim that fails him when all goes wrong, even so far as being unable to get a recording of it to play in the opening scene of the film.
The dedication of the filmmakers (Cummings, cinematographer Lowell A. Meyer, co-editor Brian Vannucci) to their craft is evident throughout the film but is particularly visible in two monologue scenes. Both are done in continuous shots, and one of these monologues is 10 minutes long. Cummings, the writer, director, co-producer, co-editor, and lead actor in this movie showed a great passion in these monologues, going all-out to portray the strong emotions within them. The camerawork in the film really shone in these scenes too, with slow, drawn-out zooms and smooth character tracking, making sure to account for and draw focus to important elements in the scenes.
There were quite a few scenes with impressive camerawork, including one in which a birds-eye closeup was employed, as well as many more scenes involving continuous shots, shorter than those of the monologues, but still demonstrating the risk undertaken by the filmmakers given how much time and effort would have to be invested into resetting such scenes to retake should something go wrong, including some in which actors and their costumes got quite dirty due to the events taking place in them.
A shortcoming of Thunder Road is a near over-focus on Jim, neglecting the characters around him. While it makes sense to have a focus on Jim given he is the main character it also leads to a lack of development in other important characters and relationships such as that with his daughter Crystal (Kendal Farr), who Jim’s story and motivations largely revolve around. It also poorly reflects on Jim’s anxieties about being overly self-centred, and it would’ve been interesting to see the film explore this via its character focus instead of somewhat contradicting what the characters stand for.
That being said, the interactions between characters were all very well executed. The dialogue and acting was all very natural and flowed well, and is in tune with how people interact in real life much more than other films manage, with overlapping speaking and filler sounds spot on; like what you experience in regular interaction. While there were some smaller-role characters whose acting wasn’t at the same level as the leads, it wasn’t anything that detracted from the experience.
Disappointingly, there was very little music use in the film. While a film doesn’t necessarily need to use sound to convey its story, if it is going to use sound, particularly something like music, it’s important that it matches the tensions of the scene. There’s a repetition of a few bars of low strings throughout the film in melancholy scenes, and although the strings match the tone of the scenes quite well it doesn’t quite reflect the emotion or actions of the characters, generally being a lot calmer than what’s happening on screen without a beneficial contrast between the parts.
Overall Thunder Road is very well-done for a film of its size. Though it has some shortcomings in its progression, it is still fully engaging and keeps the viewer watching, wanting to know what will become of Jim’s life in this uncertain point of it. Though Jim isn’t a character you feel inclined to root for in the beginning, due to his reckless and violent nature, he becomes someone the audience can cry with and for, and his story is one that is well worth being watched.