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The Station Agent

Thomas McCarthy's The Station Agent (2003) may be a modest tale about a few tumultuous weeks in the life of a solitary, somewhat aloof dwarf, but don't expect any cheap "movie of the week" stylistics — yes, you will become painfully aware of just how annoying, difficult, and defeating at times it can be to live as a 4' 5" man in a world full of substantially taller adults, but McCarthy's low-key indie drama is just as much about the price of emotional isolation. Peter Dinklage (Living in Oblivion, Elf) stars as Finbar 'Fin' McBride, a train enthusiast who lives in Hoboken, N.J., where he works in a local hobby shop, repairing model trains, and attends regular meetings of train enthusiasts — who do things like get together and watch home-movies they've made of, um… trains. But when Fin's boss dies suddenly, he discovers he's been left a small, abandoned train station in a remote part of rural New Jersey, just outside the small town of Newfoundland. Fin moves in and is fully prepared to enjoy the solitude he craves, but it's only a matter of time before he meets the neighbors. Lunch-truck operator Joe (Bobby Cannavale) is a garrulous Cuban-American who's eager to pal around with Fin and learn more about his fascination with trains, which (of course) completely unnerves the dwarf. Divorced artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) nearly runs Fin off the road twice and does everything she can to prove to him that she's not a hopeless, dimwitted eccentric. A shy local schoolgirl, Cleo (Raven Goodwin), shares Fin's fascination with trains. And blonde, bubbly librarian Emily (Michelle Williams) believes Fin is the sort of man in whom she can confide. Ambling along at a leisurely pace — matched by Fin's many walks along the Newfoundland rail line — The Station Agent is in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, but it's enjoyable just the same thanks to the splendid view. By developing a character-driven drama, writer/director McCarthy simply brings all of them on the stage, one after the other, and then allows the common events of everyday life to unfold around them. Often, the outcome is humorous — Bobby Cannavale's puppy-dog playfulness around the withdrawn Peter Dinklage never fails to raise a smile, particularly because he's such a good-hearted lug who seems barely aware that he's twice as tall as his new friend. Patricia Clarkson delivers a particularly emotional role, initially reaching out to Fin until the pain of her own past causes her to withdraw from him, just as he in the past has distanced himself from others. And Dinklage's central performance is borders on brilliance, able to convey a universe of pain and disappointment with just a few words, or even just a haggard look in his eyes — and in one moment, when he finds himself physically pushed around by Emily the librarian's temperamental boyfriend, an entire lifetime of frustration is made plain. But if life hasn't been fair to Fin, he soon learns it hasn't been fair to others as well, and it's his newfound ability to reach out to others that makes the film such a captivating experience. Buena Vista's DVD release of The Station Agent features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a chatty commentary track with writer/director McCarthy and cast members Dinklage, Clarkson, and Cannavale. Keep-case.

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