The Station Agent

The Station Agent (IMDB) focuses on the emotional struggles of Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), a midget dwarf (he chooses that term over the more PC “little person”) who works in a model train shop in Hoboken. Fin is completely fascinated by trains and immerses himself in a train-hobbyist community with his boss and friend, Henry. Whe Henry dies, Fin inherits an old rail depot in the small town of Newfoundland, New Jersey, and with the shop due to close, chooses to move out to the depot.

Fin moves out to Newfoundland in part to isolate himself as much as possible from the world and from the uncomfortable stares he receives when he walks down city streets. He knows that every time he goes out, he’ll face some kind of snide remark or the stares of others, but he reluctantly becomes involved in the lives of several of his neighbors, including a friendly and gregarious hot dog salesman, Joe (Bobby Cannavale), and an artist struggling with the end of her marriage, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson). Eventually Joe’s charms begin to draw Fin out into the world and the three people begin to connect and break through their feelings of isolation. They begin to share meals, and the subtle use of banjo music by Stephen Trask and the understated cinematography (which makes good use of the long-derelict depot and other abandoned spaces) combine to create a contemplative tone in which the characters can talk and, sometimes, sit together without having to make conversation.

It would be easy to trivialize this kind of plot, to make the film merely about Fin’s height, and while it’s a major issue in the film, Station generally avoids taking the simple way out, other than in a scene in which Joe has finally persuaded Fin to meet him in a local bar. When Joe doesn’t arrive, Fin begins drinking heavily and becomes conscious of a couple of townies staring at him and whispering under their breath. Fin’s reaction seemed out of character and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film (the following sequence seemed equally implausible). But for the most part, I think the film manages its emotional resonance without descending into something falsely sentimental.

Patricia Clarkson (who co-starred in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls, which George and I both liked) gave an outstanding performance as Olivia, but Peter Dinklage carries the film, giving Fin just the right amount of aloofness throughout, while gradually warming to the new community that builds around him. The film is generally paced nicely, allowing the characters to develop gradually, but without offering any form of artificl resolution. In fact, when the final scene of the film comes, I felt vaguely disappointed, as if I’d become attached to the characters, wanting to know more about where their stories would lead.

2 Comments »

  1. L Said,

    December 13, 2003 @ 1:40 am

    Great film. It’s “midget” that he objects to, though… “dwarf” is the preferred term.

  2. chuck Said,

    December 13, 2003 @ 12:23 pm

    Wow, that’s weird that I remembered it wrong. Thanks for the correction. I really liked the film, too.

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