THE STATION AGENT
reviewed by Elias Savada
Savada, director of the Motion Picture Information Service, a
copyright/movie research firm, is a film reviewer for
and member of the Online Film Critics Society. He
reviewed Shanghai Ghetto in
Arts & Opinion, Vol.
2, No. 1.
an actor's physical stature should have no bearing on exceptional
dramatic talent is plenty evident in the 4'-5" frame of Peter
Dinklage, whose incredibly unassuming, introspective presence
in Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent borders on stoic
epiphany. A big three-time winner at the Sundance Film Festival,
here is a film with talent, sophistication, humor, and sensitivity
rolled into a joyous, grief-cleansing, heart-lifting 90 minutes
that earns both good word-of-mouth and positions itself for year-end
acclaim on more than a handful of top-ten best lists. McCarthy,
heretofore a Broadway actor who has also been a series regular
on Boston Public and appeared on Ally McBeal, The Practice,
and Law & Order: SVU, makes a surprisingly assured debut
as a first-time feature director-writer. He's penned a dandy of
a script and garnered memorable performances from Dinklage, Paula
Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale as the core triumvirate in a tale
of despair, isolation, awkwardness, and from-the-emotional-ashes
friendship in a small New Jersey town, appropriately named Newfoundland.
McCarthy even manages to end the film at just the right moment.
who made a strong impression in his first film role nearly a decade
ago (Tom DiCillo's hilariously dark comedy Living in Oblivion),
and is a regular on the New York stage, also has a brief yet powerfully
malevolent bit in Will Ferrell's holiday one-joke shtick-fest
Elf. In The Station Agent, he's Finbar (Fin,
for short) McBride, a reclusive dwarf fascinated by trains and
their lore, yet never a passenger. After inheriting a derelict
train depot that once served a once-proud community, he literally
walks to his new home, traveling south from Hoboken along the
railroad right-of-way. He's frugal and doesn't work, not that
he's concerned about being without job (it's never mentioned);
there's more time for train watching, rail walking, and reading.
He spouts arcane facts about the iron horse and its historical
significance to our country's growth, to anyone willing to listen,
although he has a particularly hard time with a class of elementary
children more interested in blimps. Fin's reluctant to develop
relationships, lest he be spurned or ridiculed. It's been a rough
life and apparently he likes to stay under the radar. When he's
too fed up with the supermarket stares and the Snow White remarks,
he unleashes his anger at the local bar, hoping the snickering
and whispers will finally stop.
bubble is quickly popped by Joe Oramas (Cannavale), a Manhattanite-in-exile
tending to his ailing father's 'Georgeous Frank's' hot dog and
cafe con leche truck, which sits across the road from
the depot. When Fin moves in, the loquacious Joe, ever starved
for a faster paced lifestyle or anyone with an ounce of intelligence
to converse with, shows immediate interest in his new neighbor,
to the point of tag-along, I'll-buy-the-beer ingratiating dialogue.
A daily visitor to the truck is Olivia Harris (Clarkson), a mother
and separated wife, still grieving two years after the death of
her young son. She paints her grief in oils on canvas. Her introduction
to Fin is priceless. Driving her Jeep SUV, she's preoccupied with
her spilled drink or dropped item and TWICE nearly runs the clearly
bewildered pedestrian off the road.
quickly weave themselves into an odd friends society, opening
and closing their hearts, and ultimately offering grown-up compassion
and camaraderie. Even the supporting cast, particularly Raven
Goodwin (Lovely and Amazing) and Michelle Williams (Dawson's
Creek, Dick), as a bemused school girl and a local librarian
attracted to Fin's chin and kindness, help shape The Station
Agent's comfortable, well-worn, favorite-jeans feel. They're
extended family -- not blood related, but still experiencing that
type of closeness and growth. Maybe that's why Joe is constantly
calling Fin his 'bro.'
small production, shot in just 20 days in New Jersey using Super
16 film stock (blowing it up to the conventional 35mm gauge for
theatrical release), is a character-driven locomotive, occasionally
flavored with small flourishes, often barely noticeable. Early
in the film, a moment before Fin's friend and fellow worker at
a model train hobby store collapses and dies, Fin knocks over
a small toy figurine. Nice hook. Another plus: the original music
by Stephen Trask, co-creator of the sublimely side-splitting Hedwig
and the Angry Inch, blending guitar, piano, jews harp and
an odd, wavering reverb which subliminally reminded me
of Percy's Adlon microcosm-by-the roadside Bagdad Café.
Yes, there's something magical and comfy when you visit The
Station Agent. All aboard!
Savada. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.