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Published March 26th, 2004 | by Jay Richardson

The Station Agent Review

Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, as well as best screenplay and best performance plaudits for Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent is enjoyable enough, an engaging and thoughtful portrayal of friendship and loneliness. Ok, so it’s a self-consciously independent picture and the pace drags occasionally. But it still showcases a tremendous central performance from Peter Dinklage with strong support from Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. And it’s difficult not to feel an ‘oh, I was watching that’ disappointment at the end.

As train fanatic Fin, originally conceived by writer and director Tom McCarthy as non-size specific, dwarf Dinklage is every inch a leading man. Distant, self-sufficient and seeking isolation, he retains a taciturn charisma that attracts others. He suffers humiliation for his size, but the narrative is far from hung upon it. Rather, he’s a loner and the cause of his loneliness happens to be his height. This is a film about how people try to shut themselves off, not why.

Working in a model railway shop, Fin likes watching train films with fellow locomotion nuts, though this, and a friendship with his cigar-smoking boss and landlord seems the limit of his human interaction. When his boss suddenly dies, he appears to have lost everything, but instead inherits a disused train depot in New Jersey. Making it a home of sorts, he attempts to embrace solitude, but despite his best efforts, is forcibly befriended by Joe (Cannavale), a hot dog seller and gregarious motormouth with a dying father. Then Fin is twice nearly run down by Olivia, an artist and grieving mother who frequents Joe’s van. With Joe’s ceaseless persistence, the trio are brought together, suffer fallouts, but establish a bond which manifests itself in their chasing trains in the van and strolling disused tracks together.

As with the central pairing in Lost in Translation, something develops between Fin and Olivia that’s not quite friendship, not really romance, yet exists nonetheless. There’s a grey area about how his relationship might develop with the attractive but troubled teenage librarian Emily (Dawson’s Creek’s Michelle Williams) too, but it’s all neatly underplayed without trite resolution, Fin’s thaw as a human being open-ended and compelling. There is some dwarf-baiting from small-minded local types, notably Emily’s boyfriend, that stays just the right side of caricature. But for a directorial debut feature, McCarthy has shown remarkable skill and maturity in simply letting his story evolve out of basic character interaction. The Station Agent is accomplished storytelling, saying little yet everything.

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