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    The Station Agent

    Railroad ties

    Director Tom McCarthy gets it right the first time, with "The Station Agent," his charming tale of three ill-matched loners finding each other by the train tracks.


    Words like "stunner," "treasure" and (God help us!) "feel-good comedy" are so overused that flaunting them in movie ads usually prompts an immediate "Oh yeah? I'll be the judge of that" response from even the least cynical moviegoer. Well, for once such hyperbole is actually rank understatement.

    Written and directed by: Thomas McCarthy.
    Cast: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Raven Goodwin, Paul Benjamin, Michelle Williams, Jayce Bartok, Sarah E. Bolger, Maile Flanagan, Ileen Getz, Richard Kind, Joe Lo Truglio.
    Cinematography: Oliver Bokelberg.

    Related links: Official site
    Actor ("Meet the Parents" and TV's "Boston Public") turned director Tom McCarthy's debut film deserves not only all of its accolades, but all of its Sundance Film Festival Awards as well (Best Drama Audience Award, Best Screenplay and Best Performance for female lead Patricia Clarkson). Another of its superb trio of lead actors — Bobby ("Third Watch") Cannavale — also just won the 2003 Independent Spirit Break-Through Acting Award.

    Equally deserving of praise is Peter Dinklage as Finbar McBride, a dwarf and hermit-wannabe, whose story kicks off the "The Station Agent." In brief, he works in a model train shop and loves everything about trains, both large and small. His late boss leaves him an abandoned railway station and Fin moves in, hoping to attain hermetic bliss in his own private train lover's paradise.

    The Station Agent  
    But first his brave new world is besieged by Joe (Cannavale), a motor-mouthed Cuban-American coffee vendor who parks both his cart and his enormous heart right outside Fin's station. Joe tries to become Fin's friend by entering his world, any way he can — by osmosis if necessary. The other corner of this unlikely triangle is the slightly older, smart and sexy Olivia, played by Patricia Clarkson ("Pieces of April") this year's co-contender (with Hope Davis) for the undisputed title of Indie Queen, vacated by Parker Posey. She too "vants to be alone," but is inexplicably drawn to the little man she almost runs down one day.

    McCarthy wrote the script with these specific actors in mind and it shows. It avoids the obvious mis-steps, i.e. ... it's not a film about a dwarf, Fin happens to be a small person, just as Joe happens to be Cuban-American. Perhaps the most astonishing part of the film is its daring and eloquent use of silence, not the artsy-fartsy longueurs of "Lost in Translation," but a panoply of different silences — each with its own weight and specific sound (or lack thereof).

    Fin is quiet because he's truly introspective and at peace in his own company, or at least he thinks he is before the others launch their various invasions. Olivia is a soul in torment, who keeps still to hold on to her sanity as she tries to hide her pain. And then there's Joe who doesn't understand the others' need to be quiet at all, because he never is. How they circle and finally encircle each other is the whole of this tiny gem's raison d'etre. Wonder of wonders, the film avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality that so often dog the efforts of first-time directors. And at just under an hour and a half, it's like a perfect short story, leaving you wanting more, because it's exactly the right length.

    With such an auspicious debut, McCarthy is a triple threat to be nurtured, treasured and watched.

    OCTOBER 4, 2003

    Reader comments on The Station Agent:

  • Station Agent   from Eileen, Jul 11, 2004
  • Station Agent   from Eileen, Jul 11, 2004
  • The Station Agent - Brilliant   from Vinnie, Jan 2, 2005
  • Station Agent in Alaska & Oregon   from Steven B, Oct 21, 2005

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