Thunder Road follows Officer Jim Arnaud as his life slowly, but surely, falls apart all around him when he loses his mother in the midst of going through a devastating divorce and ensuing custody battle over his daughter, Crystal. Played by Jim Cummings in a performance for the ages, Jim is evidently a man who tries to do right by everybody, but seemingly can never quite put all the pieces together to do so. One might even say he suffers from “Travis Bickle Syndrome,” where he desperately tries to make human connections with those around him, but always manages to mess everything up in the end. This is made glaringly obvious from the opening scene of the film in which Jim eulogizes his mother at her funeral.
After rambling on in mostly incoherent anecdotes that are more about his personal faults than his mother’s life for minutes on end, Jim explains how his mother used to love Bruce Springsteen because it meant leaving a small town to go on to something better. To honor her memory, he says he’ll perform a dance to Springsteen’s “Thunder Road." However, when the CD player that looks as if it could very well be the same one Jim owned when he was 12 doesn’t work, he tries to perform the number with no music. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well, and word of his embarrassing act spreads through his small, sleepy town.
If there is to be a criticism of the film, it would be that it is slightly hindered by two unnecessary and oddly random plot points at the end of the first and second acts. The first is a plot point that feels ripped from the pages of Taxi Driver, and doesn’t ever feel as resolved as it should be. The latter is a visit to a character that had previously been completely absent from the film, whose addition shifted the tight focus in a direction that felt a bit forced. However, the aforementioned plot point and scene is done so exceptionally well that it is hard to really criticize them for the time they take up in the grand scheme of the 92 minute film. They add more layers to what is a deeply involved and excellent character study of Jim in ways, but they just feel a bit awkward is all. Awkward like Jim and his seemingly irreparably chaotic life.
All in all, Thunder Road is an incredible film that is one of the year’s best. The last ten minutes of the film (culminating in a hauntingly beautiful ending scene accompanied by an excellent orchestral cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love”) should leave even the emotionally thick viewers in the audience shedding tears of both sorrow and joy. And even if it doesn't, the comedic ride-along with Jim should still be fun enough to make the film enjoyable for anybody who truly loves movies and its capabilities as an art form.
By: Quinten Sansosti
Quinten is currently a junior majoring in Political Science with an Arts of the Moving Image certificate. His favorite filmmakers include Quentin Tarantino, Denis Villeneuve, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.