The Austin Chronicle

The Station Agent

Rated R, 88 min. Directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Benjamin, Raven Goodwin.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 21, 2003

Fans of independent movies will recall the actor Peter Dinklage from the first time they saw him onscreen as Tito the dwarf in Tom DiCillo’s 1995 film Living in Oblivion. There he raged against the filmmaker’s need to use little people as surreal props more fit to shore up sagging plot lines than as actual actors. Caustic and small and storming around like some furious messenger from the beyond, he tormented Steve Buscemi’s indie director to the point of distraction, but he had a point: Filmmakers did, indeed, too often employ the outré unnecessarily, and real parts for little people were few and far between (this is still the case for the most part). Eight years later, Dinklage the actor is finally in a movie of which Tito the dwarf would approve. In The Station Agent, Dinklage – a remarkable actor with a broad, handsome face and a pensive brow – plays Fin, a solitary young man who works in a scale-model train store. When his employer unexpectedly dies, Fin inherits from the old man an actual, albeit abandoned, train depot on an obscure and little-used line of the railroad in rural New Jersey. It’s little more than a shack by the tracks with no phone, no electricity, and few amenities, but when Fin’s restless eyes finally alight on it, they gleam with purpose, and it’s as if he’s finally found a place he can truly call home. And what’s a home without a family? Fin, alone in the world, silent, brooding, hopelessly withdrawn into himself after a life of dealing with the daily slings, arrows, and cruel barbs of the taller, is content to stay by himself, but the world, it seems, won’t let him be. After spending the first night sacked out on the couch in the tiny depot, he awakens to discover Joe (Cannavale), a loquacious vendor of snack foods, who has parked his truck outside of Fin’s new home and sits there, waiting for the hungry to arrive. They rarely do, but Joe, eager for company, strikes up a conversation with Fin, or tries to – Fin’s having none of it. But like an overeager puppy desperate for someone to toss a ball, Joe returns the next day, and the next, forever hectoring the wary and then finally bemused Fin, until the pair form an unlikely bond of sorts. Gradually, Fin is pulled into the wake of Joe’s chatty gravity. He meets Olivia (Clarkson, of Pieces of April), an acquaintance of Joe’s who is not only grieving for her lost child but also in the midst of a divorce, as well as Cleo (Goodwin), a curious, 10-year-old black girl who lives nearby. Her forthright, childish but somehow accurate questions disarm Fin, and by and by, this loose camaraderie evolves into something resembling real friendship. It’s unlikely that any major studio could have made such a winning, profound film about the need for friends amid solitude; McCarthy’s film is rich in tone and subtlety, but has precious little dialogue. It feels less like a modern motion picture than some odd poem long lost and then discovered in another age, a timeless, ageless gem of hard-resined emotions melting into real life.

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