The Station Agent (15)

Mar 16, 2005
Cranbrook Film Society

When his only friend and co-worker dies, a young man, born with dwarfism, inherits and moves to an abandoned train depot in rural New Jersey. Though he tried to maintain a life of solitude, he is soon entangled with an artist who is struggling with a personal tragedy and an overly-friendly Cuban hot-dog vendor.

First-time writer/director Tom McCarthy was fascinated by the way railroads connect people and communities and how, in the frontier days, the station agent was the pivot of the entire community. Not only did he collect and distribute the mail brought by the trains, he also sold groceries and even acted as the local barber.

Our attention is taken most of all by Fin, the 4 foot 5 inch hero, whose deep voice and calmness belie an unspoken anger that is bottled up inside. We feel his desperation at being the constant object of curiosity, and we understand why he is eager to escape the prying eyes all around him. Loneliness soon becomes the theme of the film.

Although Fin wants to start his new life in Newfoundland as inconspicuously as possible, he doesn’t seem able to avoid the talkative Cuban snack vendor, Joe, and the emotionally fragile artist Olivia, who is running away from her emotions, nearly runs him over twice and feels responsible for him.

The contrast between the characters could not be greater and scenes with them sitting on the train tracks eating beef jerky or sitting in rocking chairs smoking joints and watching their homemade movies of ‘train chasing’ are most endearing.

McCarthy wrote all three roles especially for the actors and they fit like gloves. Peter Dinklage is splendid as the little man who just wants to be treated like everyone else. He is calm and the way he delivers simple words has great poignancy.

Patricia Clarkson plays Olivia as though she is surrounded by an aura of tragedy and pain. She is drawn to Fin without really knowing why, as is Bobby Cannavale’s chatty, almost hyperactive, Joe. There is a sense of voyeurism as we get to know all the characters, but it is what lies underneath the surface that touches us.

Other characters include an overweight schoolgirl, who overcomes her shyness to invite him to address her class and a pregnant, ill-treated librarian, who is attracted by his gentleness.

This is an honest film which explores emotions and friendship. It never promises the impossible or even the improbable, but allows us to connect with its characters as they come to terms with themselves and each other. Seemingly simple, yet overwhelmingly complex, it is a warm and engaging story about a loner intent on solitude, who becomes a hub for friendship. With its uncluttered script and touching performances, this is a film that leaves an impact. Uplifting in a gentle way, somehow we feel richer just for having met the characters.

Stephen Trask’s score, reminiscent of Neil Young, with its simple, echo-laden guitar stings, creates sounds to match the images

The Station Agent is a wry and restrained comedy with a dramatic inner core. Told with a measured and subdued tone, the film is nevertheless sparkling with its own energy, drawn from the unique characters and the film’s sparse setting.

Thomas McCarthy | USA | 2003 | 88 minutes | 15