The 2016 short film “Thunder Road” is written by, directed by, and stars Jim Cummings, who plays James “Jimmy” Arnaud, (who I’ll refer to as “James” to avoid confusion with the actor who plays him,) a cop who has recently lost his mother. Kitty Barshay, Francesca I. Biasiolo, Melissa Papel and William Daubert have roles as well, as the funeral director, James’s daughter, James’s wife and a police chief.
The film takes place in a single room, the center of a church, and after the funeral director has spoken, James comes up to speak about and pay a tribute to his mother.
Between its title and its closing credits, the short film “Thunder Road” is composed of a single shot, and its events feel especially connected as a result. Additionally, the camera movement of the film provides a fluency which showcases itself especially well when James gets up to speak. Instead of a cut, the camera pans from a bench in the middle of the room where he was sitting to the front of the room and gradually moves closer as he speaks.
The camerawork is not the only aspect of merit here, however; Cummings delivers a fine performance as well, going from calm to teary eyed when his character begins by providing an overview of his mother as a person. He then continues by telling the church that she once donated $100 to a girl with down syndrome, and finishes by grieving over his meanness to his mother despite the support she gave him. Jim Cummings further convinces us that he is a police officer at his mother’s funeral by shedding a tear and wiping it away with a sniffle.
The film continues with James deciding it would be best to play the Bruce Springsteen song “Thunder Road,” (hence the name of the film,) which inspired his mom to move out and do something that would give her life meaning. He accompanies the song with his singing along and dancing, coming off as awkward to the rest of the church and embarrassing his daughter. When he realizes that he looks silly in a moment that should be serious, he tells someone to turn off the music while he carries his daughter in his arms. Though he once more mourns over the death of his mother, gives a teary apology for acting inappropriately at her funeral and tries to reach out to his daughter, his actions mean that he will be looked at in a more negative light by those that do not know him, and he has momentarily alienated his daughter, who turns away when he says her name. To add insult to injury, his dancing and singing is recorded by someone there.
In these moments, Cummings shines bright. During the “Thunder Road” bit of the film, he mixes nervousness, charisma, both physical and vocal, and mourning, for a crushing portrayal of a man who has just lost someone he cares about, when his character realizes how he appears to everyone else, he excels at playing a character who has just become self aware to his own apparent stupidity, when his character tries to get his daughter to forgive him, he sounds like a man in desperation, and when his character fails, he expresses anger, regret and despair.
An hour-and-a-half adaptation of the same title, released in 2018 and also written by, directed by and starring Jim Cummings opens similarly, with few major changes. Among them, an otherwise different cast, a slightly different setting, some changed dialogue, more polished camera work, (still capturing the opening scene in one shot but composed of a rounder panning action) and the failure of the radio James brings with him to play. Though he does dance, he does so with different movements, no singing, without music playing and after describing the introduction and some of the first lyrics. Nevertheless, the basic results are the same: his makes a fool of himself, and someone records him.
As the film goes on, James reveals himself to be a more and more flawed person. Soon after the funeral, he attacks a drunk homeless man (Frank Mosley,) and he is told that he was supposed to take a week off. He initially does not understand or does not want to cooperate, and once he does follow instructions, later scenes show him acting like a police officer when it is not clear if his week off has ended or not. Often times when he suggests he and his daughter do something, he is acting on his own self-interest. At one point, he says he is unable to keep up with a game his daughter wants to play with him, even though her speed looks manageable.
I intend not to describe any of the following events explicitly, only to say that they are frustrating, events that must happen in order to have a plot but are sad because they mean loss. That said, their cinematography is superb. Though camera tracks from wide shot or medium shot to close up are common, at least five of them are with purpose.
The most significant of them is a scene where James attacks a police officer who he is close friends with (Nican Robinson) and has a multi minute outburst but occasionally shows his sadness. This is yet another example of Jim’s great acting.
Though the feature length “Thunder Road” has its moments of optimism, the majority of it is about one’s poor decisions depicting him as a less caring man in the eyes of others. Despite its sadness, though, its acting cinematography and story, which always maintains a sliver of optimism, result in a product worth a viewing.
A final part worth mentioning: “Thunder Road” is relatable due to both Joe and Crystal (played in the feature by Kendal Farr.) Many know the feeling of doing something dumb and only realizing how they look later, and even those who feel they have the best parents have felt humiliated by at least one before.
“Thunder Road” is available on DVD and can be ordered on Amazon or Prime. A digital copy can be bought or rented as well. It stars, in addition to the actors mentioned above, Jocelyn DeBoer as James’s wife.
Cal Sylvia can be contacted at