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Canada, 1987 (MIFF 1989)

Director: John N. Smith

Train of Dreams is technically unassuming (it was made for a pittance) but accomplished — the gritty style invariably serves the equally gritty content, which amounts to an even-handed examination of teenage delinquency that refuses to sentimentalise it, glorify it or revel in it. Even adults are treated fairly.

The achievement is particularly remarkable in that the material seems at first to be familiar to a fault from scores of US films, back to Dead End Kids and on up to Bad Boys and River's Edge. But Smith is a Canadian, and these are Canadian kids.

Smith and his co-writers, Sally Bochner and Sara Grana, researched the problems of juvenile delinquents and then put some of them — the problems and delinquents — into the picture. The research is apparent, but it never calls attention to itself didactically. Instead, Smith and his collaborators focus on one boy, Tony, a somewhat porcine thief who repeatedly screws himself up.

His mother wants to help him, but winds up exacerbating the situation with her nagging; the price she pays for her failure is awesome. Although her role in the disaster is clear, Train of Dreams, which speeds in the opposite direction from the destination known as easy answers, does not assign the blame for Tony's indelicate predicament solely IB poor parenting; Tony himself is responsible for what his life is to become, regardless of his past, a fact he slowly comes to terms with as he engages in an agonising but liberating — and courageous — reappraisal of the reasons for his self-destructive anger.

His guide, sensitively portrayed by poet Fred Ward, is an instructor in the correctional institution to which Tony is sent. 'You can do whatever you want to,' he tells his resentful charges. 'It's almost a free country'. The teacher doesn't promote easy answers , any more than the film does, but he has a commitment to presenting his kids with a vision that extends beyond their circumscribed lives; he knows how to make the scales fall from their eyes. It's a knowledge he shares with John N. Smith and Train of Dreams. - Jay Scott, Toronto Globe and Mail

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