THE STATION AGENT (2003) / Comedy-Drama

Running Length: 88 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for language and some drug content.

Cast: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Williams, Paul Benjamin, Raven Goodwin
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Producers: Robert May, Mary Jane Skalski, Kathryn Tucker
Screenplay: Thomas McCarthy

“It’s funny how people see and treat me, since I’m really just a simple, boring person.”

Thomas McCarthy’s debut The Station Agent is a film of unprecedented power and emotion, given the fact that it seems so small on the outside. The cast is comprised of actors and actresses whose names were not very well-known at the time of its release in 2003, and the budget with which it was financed is relatively small. At first glance, one would expect for The Station Agent to be another one of those sappy, light-hearted films that independent cinema is becoming all too familiar with; but really, it’s not. It’s something much more than that, and I won’t deny that it was designed to make those who watch it feel good, it’s more of a chance for its cast and writer/director to showcase their talents.

Peter Dinklage stars as Finbar McBride, a quiet dwarf who lives alone in Hoboken, New Jersey. Making new friends is not an easy task, as he always expects for people to ridicule him for his dwarfism, so he lives withdrawn from the rest of the world. He keeps to himself most of the time and runs a small model train shop with his friend Henry (Paul Benjamin), a man who shares the same quiet personality. Fin loves trains – watching trains, building trains, listening to trains. It’s where he finds his refuge, and since the public doesn’t accept him for his size, it’s what most of his time revolves around. However, Henry dies of an unexpected heart attack and the shop is closed, but Fin learns that he has inherited a small piece of land that happens to have an abandoned train station on it. The property is out of the way in a rural part of New Jersey, making it an ideal place for him to start his new home. Of course, when he arrives, his move does attract the attention of the locals, such as Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson).

As stated before, the strengths of The Station Agent come from its acting and writing. (Thomas McCarthy won the BAFTA award for Best Original Screenplay.) McCarthy’s script is clever, original, honest, inspirational, and often very funny, and while The Station Agent does work as a comedy, it works as a drama as well. The tone is upbeat and the message is worthwhile, but the strongest element that McCarthy employs in his script is heart – pure, genuine heart.

Peter Dinklage excels as his character simply due to the fact that the character of Fin was made for him. I believe that The Station Agent is the first film to actually show the life of a dwarf as an everyday person. (To quote Dinklage from 1995’s Living in Oblivion, “Why does my character have to be dwarf? Is that the only way you can make this a dream? To put a dwarf in it?”) Dinklage has always been a fine actor, but because Fin is a character that is so close to home for him, he does an even better job than usual. This is his chance to shine, and shine he does.

Now, while Dinklage does deliver a strong central performance, the best performance – in my opinion, of course – comes from Bobby Cannavale, an actor whose work I am entirely unfamiliar with. Cannavale plays the outgoing, talkative character of Joe that befriends Fin in the early stages of the film. He sees past Fin’s size when others don’t and sticks up for him. Cannavale adds so much charm to his already likable character, bringing such positivity to the screen. To complete the trio, Patricia Clarkson plays Olivia, an artist dealing with a divorce and the death of the son. There are other supporting characters as well, such as Michelle Williams, John Slattery, and Raven Goodwin, although their screen time is limited.

McCarthy has found success in other films since his debut, but The Station Agent remains to be his greatest, most well-meaning and earnest piece of work. Like any good film, it takes more than one viewing to fully grasp – not because it is too confusing to comprehend, but because it takes multiple viewings to realize how truly powerful it actually is.

Final rating: ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2012 Stephen Earnest

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