I’m going to say it right now. I loved this film, I kept thinking about it in the days after I watched it, and I am having the hardest time writing this review because the film’s use of metaphor and character is so keen, I can’t discuss it without ruining the best parts about it. So if something slips, I am truly sorry, but please go see it.
There’s going to be plenty of press about how few movies use little people as anything but novelty characters, and I am not going to go on about that issue here. The actor playing the titular agent, Peter Dinklage, even has a hilarious tirade about this lamentable Hollywood truth in the excellent film Living in Oblivion. Dinklage plays a grave, quiet man, Finn, who keeps to himself who is then drawn out of his self-imposed exile against his will, even against his better judgement. He inherits a defunct depot in a wee town, and goes there to hide from the world, but still the world comes to him, despite him cultivating no niceties to encourage it.
The writer/director needed a way to show us why this man would feel a pressing need to be solitary without spending time on backstory; the answer was in dwarf Dinklage. We the audience get a taste of the perpetual and unsolicited attention that is inflicted upon someone who is physically different. The camera follows him in his solitary life past all the people who react to him in such absurdly different ways, and then we move on to understand the man behind the driving emotion of the character.
Finn’s depot fulfills two lifelong longings by owning this depot which just fell in his lap: his love of trains and his wish to hide from the stares, the insensitive comments, the world of curious fools. He meets Joe (Bobby Cannavale) who does not seem to notice or care about Finn’s appearance, but his own palpable loneliness is his own repelling quality. In one of the best character introductions I have seen in a while, Patricia Clarkson as Olivia barges into their lives and the trio are pulled together by the very things that set them apart.
What is marvelous about The Station Agent is not only the ensemble of Dinklage and Clarkson and Cannavale, three unlikely companions whose lives intertwine, but the way they circle and/or avoid each other. Dinklage’s curt speech patterns, Cannavale’s verbal diarrhea, and Clarkson’s mental incontinence swirl and dance and are endlessly fascinating, even if a scene appears only to exist to watch them interact (as compared to further the plot). No irritating whiffs of romance or unrequited anything needlessly complicate the mix. Just doors opening, closing, and falling open again of their own will.
This is a quiet, small, personal film, and it may not appeal to everyone. But if you want to see three people flower emotionally in a way you have never seen before, you should enjoy this film. The acting alone is worth a rental.
MPAA Rating R – language & drug content
Release date 10/17/03
Time in minutes 90
Director Tom McCarthy