Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 3, 2004

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from The Station Agent
from The Station Agent
from The Station Agent
from The Station Agent
from The Station Agent


reviewed by Elias Savada


Elias SavadaElias 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.


That 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.

Dinklage, 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.

His isolated 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.

The characters 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.'

McCarthy's 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!

©2003, Elias Savada. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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