Station Agent

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Raven Goodwin, Paul Benjamin

Director: Thomas McCarthy

THE STATION AGENT is about a taciturn and reserved dwarf called Fin (Peter Dinklage). He is fanatical about trains and inherits an old railway depot when one of his few friends passes away. This depot is hidden away in quiet New Jersey, and to here he travels, hoping to embark on a new life of undisturbed solitude in his recently acquired property.

His plans on being left alone are soon ruined, however, when he is befriended by some of the community’s eccentric and lonely residents. These include Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale), a loquacious and easy going hot dog vendor, and Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson), an unbalanced painter grieving for her lost son and her broken marriage.

Nothing much really happens in this odd tale and it all seems far from promising, yet THE STATION AGENT ends up being a totally beguiling film, and by the end the unusual plot ceases to feel unusual at all. From an odd premise, director and screenwriter Tom McCarthy manages to make a genuinely sad, funny and moving film about loneliness and friendship.

It is similar in style to Alexander Payne’s ABOUT SCHMIDT; both are character driven and laid back journeys into the heart of small-town America, and both Payne and McCarthy manage to discover the hidden pathos and humour of real life. THE STATION AGENT, however, is a more uplifting tale than Payne’s bittersweet effort. Also, whereas ABOUT SCHMIDT features a bloated Jack Nicholson, the star of THE STATION AGENT is somewhat more diminutive.

The dwarf Peter Dinklage plays the main character Fin, and finally we have a film in which a character’s disability is not used as a gimmick, or depicted superficially in order to gain cheap laughs or sympathy, as usually occurs in films featuring disability (for example, Mini-Me in the AUSTIN POWERS’ movies or the Siamese twins of STUCK ON YOU). Dwarfs do not tend to get a fair deal in movies, so it is admirable that McCarthy allows Fin to be a well rounded character, who, further more, manages to come across as cool, funny and smart. Patrick McCabe plays him well, getting a good handle on Fin’s reserve and self-possession which gradually disappear as he forms bonds with some of the town’s residents.

We emphasise a great deal with Fin, as we do with all the characters. This is the main strength of the film – that we immediately care a great deal for the characters, who are developed with affection and a large attention to detail by the director and the actors. The only drawback to this film is the slow pace. The film is only 85 minutes long but appears longer and seems, in places, to be padded out. Yet THE STATION AGENT is still an unexpected delight, a gently moving ensemble piece featuring some strong characterisation and acting. Mention must also be made of the cinematography, which shows how pleasing and tranquil mid-America can look, and the score by Stephen Trask which is peasant, unobtrusive and melodic, much like the film itself.

5 out of 6 stars