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The Station Agent

A movie directed by Thomas McCarthy

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When Three Friends Collide

  • Sep 1, 2008
  • by
`The Station Agent' is one of those rare movies that lingers through your memory long after having watched it. Not since `Lars and the Real Girl' have I felt this way about a quirky independent film where you fall in love with the characters and marvel at the warmth and eccentricity they elicit.

The movie starts with Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage, `In Bruges') a dwarf (at least that's the term he prefers, so I'll go along with him) who works as a fix-it man at a used goods store. Despite the tool man position, he's sharply dressed with a collared shirt and tie. His moves are mundane, and the store's atmosphere is serene and quiet. The deliberations of his life are similar. He goes shopping. He lives alone. He doesn't have any companionship, and whatever entertainment he ekes out is spent by himself. Then the owner of the shop (Paul Benjamin) dies.

Soon Finbar learns that he's inherited a train station depot from his deceased employer. The shop is sold with its merchandise, so he pursues his newfound possession, nestled in a sleepy New Jersey neighborhood where much renovation is needed .

He's able to live in the station depot where in former times the thriving railroad stop provided a barber shop and a familiar store with convenience items. (Although the trains that go through every night make sleep difficult.) Within a few yards of him is Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale, `Romance & Cigarettes') a Latino who runs his ailing father's hot dog and coffee vending stand from a trailer. Joey is gregarious and friendly with his new neighbor. His overtures, however, fall flat on the taciturn Finbar whose silence speaks volumes about the ordeals he endures about his height.

The two get caught up as a threesome when a separated housewife, Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson `Lars and the Real Girl') nearly runs Finbar over on the road juggling with the distracted driver syndrome we're all used to. Trying to make it up to him, Olivia finds a social context in which all three can get involved together. Finbar finally opens up. Eventually, they each have something to give one another, and the tripod becomes more complete with four when Finbar becomes infatuated with the local librarian (Michelle Williams) and extends to five when Cleo (Raven Goodwin), a curious and precocious African-American girl, shares his company and fascination about trains.

The differences between the three characters is so clever, yet uncanny, you can hardly believe how well their chemistry works together. Whether gathering at Olivia's house and art gallery, going train chasing with two amateur filmmakers whose heights are at a great distance, or just sharing a meal, the movie gels with unusual sparkle and grace.

The film demonstrates that in the midst of the usual hustle and bustle a dwarf will especially be treated like he's invisible target and in the way. But they all have hurdles to leap over. In Olivia's split marriage arrangement some past secrets come creeping back into her life, and Joey's outgoing vivacity has little time and space when caring for a sick father.

Colorful, charming, and engaging `The Station Agent' is one of those gems that make you wish independent movies were always this good. (Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy who directed the recent film `The Visitor' due out on DVD in October.)

A J.P.'s Pick 5*'s = Exceptional

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More The Station Agent reviews
review by . November 10, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
Fin (Peter Dinklage) is a middle-aged train buff and a dwarf who has been ridiculed his whole life and has no friends. He moves into an abandoned train station, ready to spend the rest of his life alone, but slowly forms friendships with a grieving woman (Patricia Clarkson), an outgoing hot dog man (Bobby Cannavale), and a young librarian (Michelle Williams).      What a wonderful movie this is! The story is heartwarming and the strong cast is excellent in well-developed roles. …
review by . March 23, 2008
This may well be my second favorite movie ever. Certainly in the top five. Can I explain why? I'm not sure that I can. An attempt: it appeals to the small person inside every single one of us. The one that never quite fits. The one that takes a beating and keeps on ticking. The one that lies down under a train and fails even at that. The one that paints half finished children for the eternal loss that never heals. The one that keeps on knocking until the door finally opens. The one that drinks alone …
review by . June 14, 2007
Finbar McBride is a dwarf. He works with his aging boss at the Golden Spike, a shop for model railroad and train enthusiasts. His boss dies suddenly leavin Fin a dilapidated old train station in the middle of nowhere New Jersey.     The story revolves around the lonely Fin, the lonely Joe who operates a hot dog truck, the lonely Olivia grieving over her lost child and marriage and Emily, the librarian, who is lonely in a different way.     It's a stark little …
review by . March 25, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
I love movies like this where the characters are off-beat but totally believable. The three main characters are all somewhat displaced, with Fin, the "little person," inheriting a train station in the middle of nowhere; Olivia staying at a "get-away" home purchased by her husband before he "got away" and still grieving the sudden death of her young son; and Joe, the chatty hot-dog vendor who loves to talk and cook, who has returned to care for his ailing father and run his vending truck. These three …
review by . November 05, 2006
We've had this movie for the last month, always putting off watching it for one reason or another. It is a very understated movie, with much of the action never commented on directly in the movie, but left up for the viewer to figure out. The plot is simple: Finbar McBride is a dwarf who loses his job when his best friend and boss suddenly dies, leaving him with a train depot in his will. Moving out to the small town where the depot is, all he wants to do is be left alone, but a combination of the …
review by . September 21, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Taken out of context, the premise for THE STATION AGENT could be the set-up for a great joke: a dwarf who used to be a train engineer and worked at a model train store inherits an old train station near Newfoundland, New Jersey and decides to live a life of solitude and makes it his permanent residence but a pesty Cuban hot-dog vendor and a beautiful female artist won't let him live in peace. It sounds like a comedy, but THE STATION AGENT isn't a comedy. Instead, it's a smart and slightly quirky …
review by . June 16, 2004
THE STATION AGENT is a miniature masterpiece. Director Tom McCarthy has achieved on a small budget, rapid sequence filming, and no frills media use, a film that proves that this art form is alive and well right here in the US. The story is simple but cogent: Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf who has been working as a model train maker for an African American store owner Henry Styles (Paul Benjamin), one of the few people that treats him without prejudice. Their relationship is gentle but …
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John L. Peterson ()
Ranked #100
I am a substitute teacher who enjoysonline reviewing. Skiing is my favorite pastime; weight training and health are my obsessions;and music and movies feed my psyche. Books are a treasure and a pleasure … more
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A strong ensemble and director Tom McCarthy's sweetly low-key observations make Sundance faveThe Station Agenta treat. The film revolves around a reserved, somber dwarf (Peter Dinklage, immortalized by his brilliant ticked-off tirade inLiving in Oblivion), a train enthusiast who inherits a small depot in rural New Jersey. He makes friends, somewhat reluctantly, with a group of eccentric locals: the guy at the coffee stand (buoyant Bobby Cannavale), an artist (Patricia Clarkson, impeccable as usual), a librarian (Michelle Williams). A few of the plot strands feel forced, but whenever the actors are simply playing off each other with McCarthy's nicely understated dialogue--which is most of the time--it ambles along winningly. You'll also learn more than you ever thought you'd want to know about trains. The key is Dinklage's smoldering performance, one of those reminders that a single scowl is worth pages of conversation.--Robert Horton
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Director: Thomas McCarthy
Screen Writer: Thomas McCarthy
DVD Release Date: June 15, 2004
Runtime: 89 minutes
Studio: Miramax
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