Movies You Might Have Missed: The Station Agent

Title: The Station Agent
Release Date: 2003
Rating: R
Length: 99 minutes
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale
Language: English
Country: USA

Everyone loves Peter Dinklage now, but there was a time before he was everyone’s favorite dwarf. It was during this time that he made The Station Agent. I only stumbled across it because I was surfing channels in the break room at work at 2am during my lunch and there it was on IFC.

Written and directed by Tom McCarthy, Dinklage plays Finbar MacBride, a reclusive train enthusiast who works in a model train shop owned by his only friend. When his friend dies suddenly, the shop is closed and sold and Fin decides to move to small Newfoundland, New Jersey and take up residence in a small, old station agent’s office left to him by his friend. It feels less deliberate than necessary for Fin, who is alone and has few possessions other than the deed which was his only bequest from his dead friend/employer.

Fin immediately meets Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a garrulous New Yorker caring for his ailing father and managing his father’s business: a coffee/food truck he parks in the gravel lot next to Fin’s new home. Why he parks it there is unclear, the traffic seems less than necessary to even pay for gas. Joe decides they ought to be friends and follows Fin like an overgrown puppy until his evident goodwill and kindness begin to crack Fin’s cautious reticence.

Fin also meets Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), who twice accidentally nearly runs him over with her car. Her apologies reveal hints and edges of deep pain. Fin, wounded himself by life as an outcast, can’t bear to force her back out of his life, though he resists her foot in the door as best he can.

There’s more to the story, of course, but I’m loath to say much more. In a story ripe for much moralizing, the movie resists it fairly well and what seems like it could tip over into trite lessons about accepting others who are different instead simply feels like a tale of friends. McCarthy does well with his subject matter and makes even his minor characters seem real. It’s perhaps not a great film, but it is unquestionably a very good one. It reminds me of Ozu by using the mundane lives of people to comment by example on their interactions. It achieves what Paterson attempted, perhaps because it didn’t try quite so hard.

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