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Thunder Road / Revenge April 16, 2019  

DIRECTED BY

Jim Cummings

 

STARRING

Jim Cummings

Kendal Farr

Nican Robinson

Macon Blair

Jocelyn DeBoer

Chelsea Edmundson

Jordan Fox

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2018

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 32 Mins.

DIRECTED BY

Coralie Fargeat

 

STARRING

Matilda Lutz

Kevin Janssens

Vincent Colombe

Guillaume Bouchède

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2018

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 48 Mins.

B

ruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” (1975) is Mrs. Arnaud’s favorite song. So it only makes sense to her son, a mustachioed police officer named Jim (Jim Cummings), to do an interpretive dance to it at her funeral, in the middle of his eulogy. But that, like everything else in his attempt to pay tribute to her, doesn’t go according to plan: Most troublingly, the pastel-colored Hello Kitty speaker on which the song’s

supposed to play malfunctions. It’s the icing on the cake that is this disastrous salute, which is otherwise satiated with teary shrieks, go-nowhere anecdotes, and ill-timed swears. A little before Jim’s plaudit ends, his young daughter, Crystal (Kendal Farr), starts to cry. Not because of the death of her grandma, but because her father is making a spectacle of himself in the worst possible way.

 

Thunder Road (2018) chronicles the devolution of Jim’s life post-funeral. A bummer, since, before the service, it was already headed south. He’s been separated from his wife, Roz (Jocelyn DeBoer), for about a year and a half; they share custody of Crystal. (The latter, who seems to grow more inward by the hour, doesn’t especially like spending time with her dad, though.) At work, Jim is treated as a flight risk. After the embarrassing scene at the service, we learn that his captain had ordered him to take the week off because of his instability — a directive he didn’t listen to.

 

The film, which is an expansion of a 2016 short film Cummings wrote, produced, and directed, watches as Jim fumbles through a series of mortifying incidents. He is a paragon of the public meltdown, it seems, though it’s clear that what we’re seeing is the aftermath of a breaking point, not Jim on the regular. In one scene, he nearly comes to blows with his daughter’s teacher, who informs him that Crystal, who apparently speaks in class like a middle-schooler who’s just learned what cursing is, is a problem child; in another, he discomfitingly wails at one of his colleagues in front of the force, which leads to his getting fired and having a fit in the parking lot.

 

Thunder Road is a series of unfortunate events, really. But Cummings, who wrote, directed, edited, and scored the movie, fashions the Jim character with a sort of sensitivity that ensures we feel profoundly bad for him. What we want for Jim is a semblance of peace, even though we know that, in order to make that happen, he’s going to have to switch towns and essentially start over. (In a city so small and gossipy, his reputation is undoubtedly impossible to remedy.) The film is a motile, considerably well-mapped character study, and makes a good case that Cummings is maybe even better than your typical filmmaker-to-watch. Its utmost flaw is its finale, which messily does away with one of the primary characters. But nary a debut is spotless, and Thunder Road, sans this plot development, comes close enough.

A

fter Revenge, a bare-bones genre thriller from Coralie Fargeat, debuted at TIFF in the fall of 2017, it was frequently billed as a feminist spin on the tired rape-and-revenge pulse-pounder — a reclamation of a vexing, straight-male-gaze-honed subgenre. Initially, such a characterization seems generous, given that the heroine, a cheesecake model-pretty blonde named Jen (a fantastic Matilda Lutz), is, for the film's first act,

routinely ogled in the same way the heroines of genre forebears often were. But once the film gets going does it seem that Fargeat’s co-opting of the long-ingrained directorial attitude is slightly more loaded — a way for us to experience the POV of its gross male characters to make the middle-of-the-movie transition into satisfying cat-and-mouse territories affect more.

 

The film is set in a middle-of-nowhere, glass-walled desert home of Richard (Kevin Janssens), a rich, conventionally handsome, and married businessman. As the film opens, he and his mistress, Jen, are landing on the property via helicopter, with the intent on spending a romantic weekend together there. This will be short-lived. Old friends Stan and Dimitri (Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède), both scruffy and portly, arrive early for a planned hunting trip. Jen tries to make it appear that she doesn’t mind, doing her best to keep everything breezy and fun as planned.

 

But shortly after their arrival, the men prove themselves lecherous. One morning, when Richard steps out to run a few errands, Jen is waylaid by Stan, who is angry that the former’s friendliness, which he has mistaken for a come-on, is not in line with the sexual attraction he feels toward her. This confrontation ends up culminating in her rape. Dimitri, who walks in mid-assault, ignores it, going for a dip in the pool instead of interfering. When Richard comes back and gets an idea of what has happened, he cares little, and freaks out when Jen makes it clear that she wants there to be consequences for his recklessness.

 

A violent skirmish follows; Jen, as a result, is left for dead. It's at this moment that the film flips. After introducing itself as something of a carnal drama defined by its saturated, decadent photography and gazing at Jen’s toned body, it becomes a movie-length chase. Jen manages to survive death and gets her hands on a gun; she then becomes the predator, with the men who once preyed on her becoming the vulnerable parties.

 

Fargeat doesn’t lionize the scenario as if she were Tarantino nouveau — she makes it clear that this is a tragedy. But it is nevertheless fulfilling to watch Jen become a ferocious revenge-seeker. Plus, the way Richard becomes as lasciviously looked over as Jen was during the film’s beginning (he spends almost the entirety of the finale nude) is an interesting subversion of the rape-and-revenge movies of the past, which tended to be comprehensively exploitative of their heroines even mid-revenge. The movie isn’t entirely a turnaround — remaining is the age-old conceit that the main female character is not resilient until after she is sexually victimized — but the film is still compact and well-conceived. Admittedly, though, it’d be nice to have more women-centric revenge thrillers that didn’t feature sexual assault as a catalyst for catharsis.

 

Thunder RoadA-

RevengeB+