'THE TOY SOLDIERS’ MARCHES TOWARD TOUGH TRUTHS

The Charlotte Observer

By Lawrence Toppman

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“The Toy Soldiers” opens with the words “Our Feature Presentation,” outlined in lavender neon as they might’ve been more than 40 years ago. That’s a tip to expect a ’70s-style indie film that’s transgressive, assaultive and propulsive.

Producer-writer-director Erik Peter Carlson had nobody to tell him “no” on the set or in the editing room. So perhaps he didn’t realize (or care) that the film feels 20 minutes too long – also a common trait of ’70s indies – and, during a jittery beginning, can be confusing.

Yet the rough honesty hooks you, and overlapping storylines eventually sort themselves out. Carlson seems like Todd Solondz with more optimism, a guy willing to show us the ugliness of life in the belief we might pass through it to some hard-won beauty.

The title comes from the name of a skating rink where kids of 18 or 19 gather, vaguely hoping to save it before it’s torn down in the late 1980s. That subplot doesn’t matter much: It’s their own lives they really hope to save before subsiding into despair.

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