Sunday, June 21, 2015

Movie – The Station Agent (2003)

The Station Agent is a great little film that I first saw when it came to video/DVD over ten years ago.  At the time I thought to myself, “That guy playing the lead character did a great job.  It’s too bad his height will keep him from getting many other parts.”  This just shows what I know.  “That guy” was Peter Dinklage and he’s now on this TV show you may have heard of – Game of Thrones.  In fact, because of the fame and acclaim he has gained from the show people are seeking out other things he has worked on and that includes this film.  I’m glad more people are getting a chance to experience it.

Finbar McBride (Dinklage) works at a model train store in Hoboken, New Jersey.  He and the owner (Paul Benjamin) live in apartments over the store, and the roof of the building gives them a view of trains passing by.  As you might expect, both are them are train enthusiasts.  Both are also men who are quiet and keep to themselves.  The two of them are probably the only friend each other has.  Life is okay for Fin, except for the reactions he gets from people who see him for the first time.  As someone with dwarfism he attracts attention, which has made him quite reserved.

One day Fin finds his boss dead on the floor of the store.  The lawyer tells him that the building is to be sold and the store closed, but Fin has been left an old train station the man owned out in a less populated part of New Jersey.  With no reason to stay where he is, Fin heads out to this station.  He does it by walking the train tracks.  This gives him the solitude he wants, as well as providing the opportunity to watch trains as they periodically go by.

He arrives in Newfoundland, New Jersey to find an old station in a state of disrepair.  There’s no electricity or running water.  He’s tired and falls asleep on a couch.  In the morning he is startled to find a food truck has set up shop in the parking area in front of the depot.  The truck is run by Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale).  As introverted as Fin is, Joe is that much of an extrovert.  He’s delighted to find someone there to talk to, since he doesn’t seem to get many customers.

Fin politely ends the conversation to walk to a convenience store.  Along the way he is almost run over by a distracted driver named Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson).  It turns out she heads to the food truck every morning for a coffee.  So of course on the way back she almost runs over Fin again when she spills her coffee on herself.  Between the very talkative Joe, and the disaster waiting to happen Olivia, Fin seems to have even more reason to keep to himself.

Joe’s not the kind of guy to ever give up, though, so as the days go by he engages Fin in conversation more and more.  In addition, Olivia comes by one evening to apologize to Fin.  She brings bourbon and the two get talking.  She stays the night, but they don’t have sex.  In the morning Joe is practically beaming at Fin, wanting to know what happened between Fin (“you dog!”) and Olivia.

The film continues is this quiet way for the 90 minute running time.  Anyone looking for lots of action, or great dramatic fights, or whatnot, will probably be disappointed.  We get a character study of three people, each of them damaged in some way, and each of them about the least likely threesome you would ever expect to find friendship with each other.

Fin has lost his only friend in the world.  We find out early on that Olivia is still mourning the death of her son from two years prior and that it has caused her and her husband to separate.  Joe’s father is quite ill and it’s actually his father’s food truck that he is working in.  He’s trying to keep his dad’s business going and it’s driving him nuts not being around more people he can talk to.

Also in the film are smaller turns from Michelle Williams as the local librarian who may or may not have an interest in Fin, and a young local girl (Raven Goodwin) who likes playing near the station and who seems to be fascinated by Fin.

This film is the writing and directing debut from character actor Thomas McCarthy (Boston Public, The Wire, several George Clooney films, etc.)  He received many nominations and wins for this work, as did the three main cast members.  The movie received the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.  McCarthy would go on to write and direct The Visitor (2007), which netted star (and fellow veteran character actor) Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination.  I feel that Dinklage, Clarkson, and Cannavale all would have received some Oscar notice if this were a larger film.

The best thing that McCarthy did was write a story where the main character is this private man who has suffered a loss…and who happens to be a dwarf.  This is as opposed to writing a story about a dwarf.  While the film does show many people reacting to Fin’s appearance, it’s telling that the one time in the film when Fin lashes out at the supposed derision and attention he is receiving is the one time when he definitely is not receiving any.  The people around him all just happen to be at the same bar he is, and they are living their own lives oblivious to him.

I would describe this film as a light drama.  While there are humorous moments in it, most of them are the little moments in life that can happen to anyone.  There are actually a lot of quiet moments in the film.  Many times we see two or three of the main characters together, yet they are silent.  Even though they are “together” each of them is still somewhat in their own world, but you can tell they are drawing comfort just from being in the presence of one or both of the others.  Those quiet moments are usually accompanied by a terrific score.

As I said earlier, if you’re looking for action this isn’t the film for you.  On the other hand, if you are looking to meet three different people, all of whom are interesting, and to watch them take some awkward, sometimes humorous, steps towards friendship and healing, then I very highly recommend this film.  If I gave half star ratings this would be 4.5 stars.

Chip’s Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

12 comments:

  1. I watched this film about the same time you did and liked it very much. I don't watch Game of Thrones, but I'm glad Dinklage has had continued success after his fine work in this film. This was also during a period when it seem that Patricia Clarkson was the leading lady in virtually every indy film I saw!

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    1. If you want another great movie with Peter Dinklage in it check out my prior review of Death at a Funeral. It's an ensemble cast, so he's not the focal point of the movie, but he is quite important to the events.

      He's also great on Game of Thrones. If you don't watch it because you tried it and it wasn't for you, then that's fine. If you've simply never seen it at all, then I recommend it. Here is a link to my review of the first season. It's spoiler-free:
      http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/2011/08/tv-and-book-game-of-thrones.html

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  2. You like the same thing about it I do. It's not a film about a dwarf but about a guy who happens to be one. It's smart enough to treat Fin like a guy.

    I enjoy the hell out of this film. Beautifully acted, funny in places, and genuinely heartfelt. I also love that it could have easily been a romance but went somewhere better.

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    1. That's how I described Wadjda, too. It's a story about a girl who happens to be Iranian, rather than a story about an Iranian girl.

      I like to think that Fin maybe started a relationship with the librarian, and it's obvious during the movie that Olivia has some sexual tension with both of the men, so that may have ended up going somewhere after the movie ends, too.

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  3. Just want to add to the chorus of praise for this wonderful movie.

    By the way, some of my plug-ins have updated. Maybe that will sort your Java problem??

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    1. It looks like Wordpress doesn't like an older version of IE. At work I can comment under a newer version, and I can comment from my home PC by using Chrome, but not from my home PC with the older version of IE I have.

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  4. Hi Chip! I hope you're well. It's been too long. I love your review of this film and I really enjoyed this movie. It was a quiet film, but wonderful. It introduced me to Peter Dinklage.

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    1. I'm glad to see you're doing well, too. Thanks for reaching out. I don't get out on other blogs very much anymore. And you may have noticed I don't post anywhere near as often as I used to here, either. I do spend some time on Letterboxd most every day, if only for a few minutes. Are you on Letterboxd?

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    2. I think I am on letterbox. I need to find my password and login information. I'll have to visit there sometime. I'm probably on twitter and facebook more.

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    3. I'm just the opposite; I don't use either Facebook or Twitter. Oh well.

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  5. I remember laughing out loud when he jumps from the road to avoid the car. Twice :) A film I'm curious to revisit, I haven't seen it in years. I liked the gentle approach to the characters and story.

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    1. Those moments are the ones that are the most out and out humor in the film.

      It's definitely worth a revisit. I did something I don't often do: I rewatched this before reviewing it. I almost always review films from memory for my posts here. When I do it right after seeing it I tend to want to write far too much about all the little things I noticed or appreciated. In this case, though, I really wanted to experience it again so I took it down off my shelf and popped it in the player.

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