Darius McCollum definitely earned his reputation as New York City’s most famous transit criminal. He was arrested 32 times for impersonating subway drivers, conductors, token booth clerks and track repairmen. While viewing and listening to Darius narrate Off the Rails, a terrific documentary about his life, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything criminal. He sounds rational, seems non-violent, polite and well spoken. However, as the film progresses, we begin to understand his uncontrollable obsession, why it became the most important thing to him, and how it led to most of his adult life being spent in prison. Not surprisingly, Adam Irving’s first full-length film has already won numerous awards on the festival circuit, including Best Director and Best Documentary honors at the Southern Utah International Documentary Film Festival
This true story comes across as quite compelling, though repetitive (out of necessity). In fact, I think it would make an excellent fictionalized movie drama, perhaps with Will Smith in the starring role. I offer this suggestion because the fictionalized film, if done right, would reach even more viewers – and it’s very important to get maximum exposure for Darius’ disturbing neglect within the criminal justice system. Not that I condone his many transit transgressions, but I believe this would be a good opportunity to reveal some of the weaknesses in treatment of defendants with mental problems.
What can be done about this man,
NYC Transit’s most avid fan?
Living for buses and for trains --
jail terms end up his only gains.
Aspergers may be the major cause
of his hijacking action flaws.
But still they are considered crimes
and send him to jail many times.
No therapy for thirty years.
Darius suffers from deep fears
from trauma caused in early days.
It hurt him in important ways.
He feels helpful driving a train.
Or a bus too -- in sun or rain.
“Volunteering” is his excuse.
For which he meets with much abuse.
“Off the Rails” deals with this true tale
of how a system came to fail.
Watching the film can break your heart.
What things will help – and where to start?
Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be. --- Dr. Temple Grandin
(Released by The Film Collaborative; not rated by MPAA. Off the Rails screens in Toronto on Friday, October 7, 2016, and later this year in New York and Los Angeles.)
For more information about Off the Rails, go to the IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes website.)