Friday, October 11, 2019

Thunder Road (2018)

Is there a word for a spasmodic sort of smile that is at once an existential grimace? The Germans could possibly have one. Middle Americans almost certainly not. And that, in essence is the 'story' here. 

It first appeared as an award-winning short, and now thanks to $190K raised via Kickstarter, we have the feature-length version, which is both a re-imagining of its one astonishing scene, plus an extrapolation from it. 

That opening single-take, common to short and extended versions, finds us in a small-town Texan church, as Officer Jim Arnaud prepares to deliver the eulogy at his mother's funeral, a moment of introspective grief that is to mark the beginning of a proper meltdown, adding marriage, career and parenting to the mix.

The end credits start with the reminder that Thunder Road was 'written, directed and performed' by Jim Cummings. The element of performance here is unequivocal. In a number of scenes where all we have in shot is a single speaking character, one feels that they are alone even when one knows that they are not, and I cannot recall another recent release where the presence of the camera is felt quite so acutely. 

Cummings has cited Alan Partridge and David Brent as inspirations for his over-sensitive, self-obsessed and hazardously un-self-unaware cop. I also thought about Fleabag, though Phoebe Waller-Bridge's character, which originated as a stand-up one woman show, has acquired a bit more surrounding narrative structure since. 

This is a very good, low budget film and I'd recommend it, yet it is far from flawless. In particular I had trouble seeing around this set of vignettes to a viable version of Arnaud, outside of his immediate crisis.

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