Film Reviews

Review: ‘Off the Rails’

Hot Docs 2016

A train passes Darius McCollum at 23rd St. Station in New York.
Courtesy of Hot Docs


Off the Rails
(Canada/USA, 87 min.)
Dir. Adam Irving
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (International Premiere)

Canadian expatriate Irving’s debut feature is a flashily constructed film about Darius McCollum, an African-American with Asperger’s syndrome and a lifelong obsession with the New York City transit system. Darius has landed in prison over 32 times due to his incessant preoccupation: he’s been caught stealing busses and subway trains but never veers off his personal path. The film raises a lot of interesting questions about how the state deals with mental illness. New York’s authorities are all too willing to keep on throwing Darius in jail (and even solitary confinement) without providing therapy or counsel to discover more about the complexities of his Asperger’s syndrome.

On one hand, Off the Rails is admirable in highlighting Darius’ case as a victim unable to defend himself. Yet, on the other hand, there is a strange hero-worshipping aspect to the film, and its white director. Darius is presented as a sort of superhero in the film, the misunderstood victim who can do no wrong. While the film presents one dissenting viewpoint, the plot is ripe for the hands of a Hollywood underdog drama. It’s no surprise that a Hollywood adaptation of the film has being readied, with Julia Roberts on board as McCollum’s lawyer. Hopefully, the Hollywood version of Darius’ story will at least provide a complex starring role and a directing opportunity for an African American trying to break into the mainstream.

Off the Rails screens:
-Wednesday, May 4 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 9:15 PM
-Friday, May 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 1:00 PM
-Sunday, May 8 at Innis Hall at 7:15 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.