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The Station Agent
2003 - R - 88 Mins.
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Producer: Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May, Kathryn Tucker
Written By: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Benjamin, Richard Kind
Review by: David Trier
   
For many in the film industry, The Station Agent is a dream come true. A struggling actor pens a script to star his friends and not only gets it financed cheaply, he gets to direct it. What you end up with is a clear vision from beginning to end and a charming movie.

When Fin (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf and train enthusiast, inherits a small train depot from his dead friend, he moves to Newfoundland, New Jersey where he expects he’ll get some much-appreciated privacy. But it isn’t long before people take interest in him. Joe (Bobby Cannavale) an affectionate but childish Cuban American, substituting for his ill father, runs a coffee and hot dog stand next to the depot and is desperate for someone to hang out with. Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) nearly runs Fin over with her car and pursues him with apologies. Brought together greatly by Joe’s efforts to create a family environment in the most boring place in the universe, the three ultimately form a worthwhile and meaningful bond.

Far superior but similar in approach to 1999’s IFC film, Spring Forward, The Station Agent is not one of those movies where a whole lot happens. It’s a film about yearning, a character study asking what it takes to be and what it means to be truly alone.

For what is primarily a sensitive drama, I don’t recall having laughed so loudly in quite a while. This is the result of impeccable timing from excellent performers, many of which are speaking so fluidly you would think the writer had them in mind from page one – well, he did apparently.

Peter Dinklage is playing a quiet man, so his performance relies heavily on being emotionally present. Dinklage delivers so well that we soon forget his dwarfism and are able to simply look at him as a man, which is all Fin really wants anyway. Cannavale (who some might recognize from the cop drama Third Watch) is very funny and sweet as Joe. Everyone knows someone like Joe and Cannavale really nails it. Patricia Clarkson, who’s gradually evolving from excellent supporting actress to excellent lead, makes Olivia both strong-willed and sympathetic.

Writer/director Thomas McCarthy (who had supporting roles in Meet the Parents and The Guru) has crafted a simple, funny and sensitive story that doesn’t exploit its characters nor condescend to its audience. Cinematographer Oliver Bokelberg’s smooth visual style works well with a simple and effective soundtrack from Stephen Trask. Something about this combination is reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man without being blatantly artsy.

The film is heavy on discontent, but it could use just a tad more direct conflict for my tastes. And this already short 88 minute movie could probably do without a seemingly superfluous young librarian character (well played by Michelle Williams). However, while there are arguably a few moments that lack follow-through (no revenge is taken on bullies and no conclusions are presented on Joe’s father), The Station Agent seems less concerned with following a formula than it is with following its main characters and this is refreshing.

McCarthy, like Fin, isn’t begging for our approval. He’s not trying to draw sympathy. Instead, he shows us a truthful reality and we give it to him. That makes this an exceptional piece.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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