Darius McCollum has an encyclopedic knowledge of New York’s subway trains. The subway was his refuge as a child. As a teenager, McCollum learned how to operate the trains from several conductors. However, due to an arrest for joy riding a train at age 15, he was never allowed to work for the city’s transit. Instead, McCollum became known as the city “public transit bandit,” stealing trains and buses while impersonating their drivers. More than 30 arrests later, he still dreams of transit – even though authorities hope to keep McCollum locked up.

Off the Rails is an insightful, occasionally hilarious profile of a fascinating New Yorker. Director Adam Irving invites us into McCollum’s world, letting grainy re-enactments of events from his youth and early adulthood get us into the subject’s state of mind. The depths of the remarks Irving gets from his subject transcend the easy labels given to McCollum by certain press outlets. The sections of the film that explore the man’s struggles with Asperger’s, and how his illness makes him a pariah in the public eye, are especially moving.

The doc has a brisk pace but doesn’t neglect the finer details of McCollum’s cons and crimes. There is much talk about the state’s failure to help him, as money given to penitentiaries could have gone to therapy. Meanwhile, the sections about McCollum’s strained relationship with his mother are poignant. The end result is a flummoxing and sharply funny human-interest-story that will be hard to forget.

Is Off the Rails essential festival viewing?

Absolutely. You know that saying, “If it were in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it?” Well, Off the Rails is a true story, and it is as entertaining as it is dumbfounding. Imagine a feature-length version of an excellent, complex “Humans of New York” story, and you get something like Irving’s latest doc.

Off the Rails screening times

Off the Rails trailer

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