Friday, May 26, 2023

Where the Tracks End: Movie Review

Chooses melodrama instead of optimism.
Where the Tracks End follows Ikal (Kaarlo Isaacs) a ten-year-old boy who has some social skills but zero academic skills. His father works for a railroad company building train tracks, and the family has newly arrived in a small, dirt town. Ikal makes friends, adopts a stray dog, and finds a teacher who wants to help him learn how to read. Ikal is easy to like; the movie is not.   2023

Directed by: Ernesto Contreras

Screenplay by: Javier Penalosa

Starring: Kaarlo Isaacs, Frida Cruz,
and Adriana Barraza

It’s a movie that could very easily lean into the cuteness of a bunch of kids and a dog finding daily adventures, but instead threatens melodrama at every turn and would rather tell a story about nothing than ever let the audience feel uplifted.

There is a lot of poverty on display here. The school is literally a wagon, minimal resources, but outside school offers even less for the kids. Their one adventure includes breaking into the house of a rich family on the outskirts of town so they can steal food so they don’t starve, and have the rich owners chase them and threaten to kill them. That storyline is introduced early and has one, obviously sad, resolution near the end of the movie.

Other storylines introduced include a mother who is sick and is dying. Their teacher has cataracts, and given the poverty of the town, that means she is soon going to be unable to read and will then go blind. The railroad workers are driven by a one-dimensional villain. One would think that building train tracks in this town is a sign of forthcoming economic prosperity, or at least potential prosperity. But there is zero optimism.

Most of the movie is nothing. Scenes about nothing but include another hint about how awful life is for the characters, that disaster must soon be coming. Disaster comes but not until the very end, and here’s the kicker – it wasn’t even foreseen. The endings that the movie was threatening to deliver never came, and it was instead driven by a one-dimensional villain, and it’s hard to imagine worse writing.

Dirt towns – towns that are tumbleweeds and are meant to represent extreme poverty are not easy to photograph for anything more than a scene. Brown drabness is not interesting. But the cinematography here is surprisingly good. It’s a nice looking movie and the key is never letting the kids stop. Most of the scenes of the kids they’re on the move, walking, sometimes to nowhere, but the director of photography never let the movie feel like it wasn’t interesting or wasn’t going anywhere.

Where the Tracks End feels like it’s a difference genre than it was supposed to be. Part of that disconnect comes from IMDb listing it as a comedy, it’s not a comedy. And maybe part of the disconnect isn’t fair. The movie threatened melodrama and then delivered melodrama but spent the rest of the movie on cute kids. It’s mostly just a confused movie.