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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Station Agent

A study of quirky characters

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 7, 2004 -- “The Station Agent” is a “little” movie in many senses of the word. In no sense, however, is it little in terms of writing, acting, directing or production talent. In fact, this is one of the best films of 2003. It came in number two on my list of best films of the year, losing out by a nose to Seabiscuit. Not much happens in this film. It is little in the sense that it has no car chases, explosions epic battles or sweeping vistas, or a cast of thousands of people. It is little in that it tells a funny, poignant story about three people in a little town. It is one of those marvelous little character study films. It is big, however, in the depth of the emotions it covers and in the complexity of the relationships it examines. It is a slice of life story which examines the lives of the kinds of people who are usually ignored in the movies.

Peter Dinklage (“Elf”) stars as Finbar “Fin” McBride, a man in love with trains. He repairs toy trains in small train shop called “The Golden Spike” with his employer and only friend, Henry Styles (played by Paul Benjamin of “Rosewood”). The two work together as a comfortable team. They also meet with other train ethusiasts at club meetings. When Styles dies and leaves him an old train station in his will, Fin retires and heads for the solitude of the old train station in Newfoundland, New Jersey. He walks along the railroad tracks to get there. He knows the tracks better than he knows the roads and he knows the train schedules, too. He does not drive a car. Fin wants solitude, but it is hard to not to be noticed because he is a dwarf. While picking up groceries at a convenience store in Newfoundland he winces as the woman behind the counter takes his photograph. Fin spends his days peacefully watching the trains go by and reading books, trying not to be noticed.

While walking, Fin is nearly run down by a careless motorist. The motorist, Olivia Harris (played by Patricia Clarkson of “Pieces of April”) is so profusely sorry for the near-collision (which happens twice) that she tries to make it up to Fin, and so intrudes into his life. She gets him books from the library (where the librarian, played by Michelle Williams of “Dawson's Creek”, is attracted to Fin) and stops by the station to visit. Olivia is having marital problems and is devastated by the death of her young son. She is unable to escape the past and get on with her life. Inexorably Fin is is drawn to her and becomes very concerned about her. Fin also finds another person camped outside his station every morning, a motormouthed truck-snack vendor named Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale of “Night Falls on Manhattan”). Joe can't take a hint that Fin wants to be left alone, and forces himself into Fin's life.

Eventually Fin, Harris and Joe form a highly unusual friendship that changes all of them for the better. Their relationship is not without problems, however. Fin is bothered by Joe's incessant blather and Olivia tries to isolate herself from the whole world, including Joe and Fin. The two men try to help the woman, but she refuses to see them when she is in her darkest hours of depression and pain. Joe learns the value of quiet time from Fin, and Fin learns from Joe that he is not an island.

The film is very funny because of its keen observations on human nature. Each character is well-established, even the minor characters like Henry Styles are fully fleshed out. The comedy and the pathos in the film are both effective because these characters are so well developed and the actors do such a marvelous job making them fully realized and believable. The comedy and pathos in the film are also very much character-driven. Patricia Clarkson is being talked about as a likely Oscar nominee for her work in “Pieces of April,” but she is even better than that in “The Station Agent.” For one thing, she shows a greater emotional range in “The Station Agent,” while her role as the dying, disapproving mother in “Pieces of April” was more of a one-note performance. Peter Dinklage is superb in this film. He really carries the bulk of the story on his shoulders and he is equal to the task. His performance is so subtle, he is able to convey book loads of information without dialogue, using perfectly nuanced facial expressions and body language.

This film reminds me of one of my favorite films, “Smoke,” starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Stockard Channing, Forest Whitaker and Harold Perrineau. Like that film, “Station Agent” is a film of memorable characters whose lives intertwine in unusual ways. Both films are enjoyable not so much because of the plot, but because of the characters (not that there is anything wrong with the plot of either film). As a viewer, you would follow these fascinating characters through any plot. “The Station Agent” is about how people connect with each other and how they interact to form a group which is greater than the sum of its parts. Both heartwarming and troubling, it shows a wide variety of human behavior in an unusual rural setting. It may not be the way people really are, but it is the way people should care about one another. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)