Don Shebib's "Goin' Down the Road" feels at times like a film realization of Studs Terkel's "Hard Times," until you remind yourself that the movie is fiction and the time is now. It tells the story of two young men from Canada's Maritime Provinces who come to the big city, Toronto, lured by the possibility of good jobs and good times. They find none of the former and precious few of the latter -- a few beery, brawling evenings and a few easy girls aside -- but they're game and they keep pushing until the urban monster grinds them down.
The film's special accomplishment is its treatment of the characters and the city itself with an absolutely unsentimental level-headedness. It tells a story that contains joy, silliness, love and despair. But these things are kept organic to the story; the film itself doesn't pretend to be other than a record. Shebib achieves a documentary objectivity that touches us more deeply than tear jerking could.
I don't know if I've put that clearly enough. What I mean is that "Goin' Down the Road" doesn't pander. Too many films about young people today betray a desperate need on the part of their makers to be accepted by the young audience. "Fools" is the most extreme example: a film so obsessed with being "contemporary" that it mires in self-parody. Shebib, who is 28 and made "Goin' Down the Road" with about $80,000, most of it borrowed, doesn't wave any credentials to prove he's plugged in. He just gets on with his story.
He's aided immeasurably by his two leading actors, Paul Bradley and Doug McGrath (who shared Canada's 1970 best-actor award, while the film was named Canada's best of the year). They play straight young men from the Maritimes, who drive to Toronto in a beat-up old Chevy with flames painted on the sides. They aren't hip or radical or even, as you think at first, greasers. They're in Toronto for the action.