The Station Agent

on October 03, 2003 by Annlee Ellingson
An unexpected favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was snapped up for distribution by Miramax and captured acting, writing and audience awards, “The Station Agent” is the gentle portrait of a tentative friendship among three quite disparate people. At four feet, five inches, Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) has been the object of curiosity and derision for most of his life. He has dealt with it by shutting himself off from most of the rest of the world. When his only friend and business partner dies, he inherits an abandoned train depot in lushly shot rural New Jersey and jumps at the chance to live there in isolation.

It is not to be. He is immediately accosted by Joe (an infections Bobby Cannavale), who is bored to tears running the coffee truck nearby while his dad is laid up at home, and literally run off the road by painter Olivia (once again, the uber-talented Patricia Clarkson), who, estranged from her husband, is grieving the death of her young son. These chance meetings lay the foundation for solid friendships.

“If you guys do something later, can I join you?” Joe asks Fin when he observes his budding relationship with Olivia. “We're not doing anything later,” Fin replies. “But if you do,” Joe insists. The exchange goes on for comedic effect but also to intimate Joe's desperation to make a human connection and Fin's aversion to it.

For Dinklage, particularly, this is the role of a lifetime. He is pitch-perfect as the monosyllabic conversationalist who is wholly satisfied to read about trains, watch trains and walk “the right of way” (along the train tracks) by himself. Yet he doesn't truly enjoy the pastime without Joe and Olivia's help, when he can finally chase trains in a car with a video camera. Clarkson, too, grapples with the complicated emotions of being friends with a man for whom she can be neither mother nor girlfriend. And Cannavale brings humor and energy to a storyline that could plunge into melodrama but doesn't.

Rarely has friendship--honest, genuine friendship--been portrayed so truthfully, with the gentle humor that belies real intimacy. (“I wanted to live near Joe,” Fin quips as the reason he moved into a deserted train station with no plumbing or electricity; “Can you come up here and talk?” Joe whines from the balcony where he is preparing dinner--he's a great cook--as Fin and Olivia converse below. “Seriously, this sucks.”) And while theirs is a unique arrangement that they struggle with throughout the film, ultimately Fin, Joe and Olivia come to quite comfortable terms with it--their own. Starring Patricia Clarkson, Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale, Micchelle Williams, Raven Goodwin and Paul Benjamin. Directed and written by Tom McCarthy. Produced by Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May and Kathryn Tucker. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for language and some drug content. Running time: 90 min

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