Peter Dinklage plays one lonely dwarf in "The Station
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy
Produced by Robert May, Mary Jane Skalski and Kathryn Tucker
Starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale,
Paul Benjamin, Raven Goodwin, Michelle Williams, John Slattery and
Jo Lo Truglio
(out of four)
“The Station Agent”
observes friendship between three distinct people in need of human
contact. At first sight it’s an unlikely combination—a
dwarf, a painter and a coffee wagon operator—but each character
is seeking human connection, admittedly or not.
A wrong-headed film would treat the topic too somberly or would
have turned it into an “Odd Couple”-style sitcom. But
writer/director Thomas McCarthy looks at his characters with lively
humor, making the characters seem real and the tragedies more palpable.
Peter Dinklage plays Finbar McBride, a train enthusiast from Hoboken,
N.J., who inherits an old, closed, small-town train station after
the death of his only apparent friend, a model-train shop owner
with whom he works. Before Fin’s friend dies, they go to a
train enthusiasts’ meeting to watch the film of a train-chaser
explaining very obvious things like the bellowing smoke and a dark
tunnel (“one of the darkest tunnels in Canada”). Even
the two train lovers know it’s boring.
This is the extent of Fin’s social life, as other train-obsessed
folks are the only ones he can spend time with. Fin is a dwarf,
and has learned to avoid people since they don’t know how
to act around him. They stare as he walks through the streets. He
knows that if they’re not already whispering, they’ll
be talking about him once he’s out of sight. His defense is
to spend his life alone.
Things don’t seem to be different in the new town, Newfoundland,
N.J., where a woman at the convenience store pulls out her camera
to take a picture when he comes in.
Fin spends most of his time walking the right of way (on the railroad
track) and reading, until unrelenting people impose themselves on
Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) makes her first and second impressions
on Fin by accidentally swerving her car and almost hitting him twice
in one day. Dinklage deadpans Fin’s negative answer when Olivia
tries to apologize by offering him a ride.
She then takes him a bottle of brandy to apologize. A bit drunk,
she reveals that she divorced her husband after the accidental death
of their 8-year-old son, then falls asleep.
Clarkson won a special award at last year’ Sundance Film Festival
for her fine work in this film, “All the Real Girls”
and “Pieces of April.” “The Station Agent”
is the strongest of all those performances, often requiring a cheerful
exterior or a happy moment to be haunted by the tragedy of her son’s
The outgoing Joe (Bobby Cannavale) operates his sick father’s
coffee wagon outside the station. In town from New York for the
last six weeks, Joe is restless and constantly chatty, with plenty
of time to talk since an abandoned train station isn’t the
most happening place to buy coffee.
Fin, on the other hand, is steadfastly determined not to say anything
more than is asked of him, including introducing himself. He and
Joe together make for great interaction. Fin refuses to go to a
bar with Joe, then answers that he doesn’t like bars, admits
he likes beer when asked, but refuses Joe’s offer to bring
a six-pack over. He’s going to go to a walk—and prefers
to walk alone.
Fin is remarkable in his refusal of company, but his defenses slowly
weaken as Joe executes an interaction assault. After seeing Olivia
leaving the station the morning after the brandy episode and labeling
Fin a stud, he gets even worse.
These characters are lonely in different ways, and experience different
positions on each other’s privacy as the film progresses.
Sometimes friends need to visit friends, even those who say they
don’t want to see anyone. McCarthy shows that it isn’t
easy, but sometimes is necessary to connect.
Dinklage, whose work includes the memorable sharp dwarf actor in
“Living in Oblivion,” is fantastic in the film, and
it’d be a loss if he continues to only receive roles that
require characters to be dwarves. He could slip into any role. As
Fin, he’s not too dour, not too witty—just a man slowly
learning that while privacy is nice, it's necessary to let other
people into your life as well.
“The Station Agent” won the audience award at Sundance
without a stunning epic story, and not much of a conventional story
at all, but because its characters are smart, funny and touching.
It reminds us of friends and ourselves, and it’s nice to see
those people realize what they love to do in life.