The Station Agent
starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, and Bobby Cannavale
3 1/2 stars

review by Stephen Notley

Fin McBride is a small man. In fact he's a dwarf, 5' 4", with a regular man-sized torso but disproportionately small arms and legs. He's also a quiet guy, a guy who likes trains and walking on railroad tracks, so when his only friend and co-worker dies and leaves him the deed to an aging old rural train depot, he makes the move. And when he gets there, he meets some new people.

That's the story, feather-light, of the Station Agent, a gentle, leisurely drifting-together of some lives. There are no big plot twists, Fin doesn’t have to hold a bikini-car wash to pay the debt on the train station, there are few big dramatic moments that bring these people closer.

It's a quiet film, very quiet, filled with lots of silences, comfortable ones. That's Fin's thing. He's a compacted man who rarely speaks, so much wisdom seems to reside in him. People are drawn to him. Lonely people.

First there's Joe, a good guy who runs a sad hot dog van across the street. He really wants to be Fin's buddy, clapping him on the back, pumping him up, telling him "you the man!" He's never dissuaded for a minute by Fin's arch glances or slight sighs of annoyance; he's like an iron filing to Fin's lodestone. Played by Bobby Cannavale, Joe is easy and open, throwing out little dots of friendship to Fin who stoically absorbs them.

And of course, Joe's always helping out when it comes to Olivia, a lonely divorced ex-mother grieving her son. Olivia meets Fin by almost hitting him with her car, twice, and from then on they know each other, pushed together here and there with gentle prodding from Joe. She and Fin have a lot more in common with each other than with Joe since both really prefer to sit quietly and not talk. Olivia as played by Patricia Clarkson is distant but empathetic, preferring privacy but accepting good will, lean with grief.

Michelle Williams, perky blonde from Dawson's Creek, appears as perky blonde Emily, a library girl who develops a sweet little crush on Fin after an embarassing first meeting where she shrieks and drops a bunch of books. She plays it simple and appealing, another person with her own problems, swinging for a while into Fin's orbit before spinning off again.

But the center of the movie is Peter Dinklage as Fin. Yes, his name is Dinklage; stop snickering. He's cool. He's got so much dignity and reserve, he's holding so much in, it's like he's denser, he's got more gravity; it's easy to see why people need to tell him things. The movie feels shaped to him, built around his frame; "normal" proportions seem slightly unbalanced compared to him. 

As I say, the film is light, skipping against moments in these lives without histrionics. Writer-director Thomas McCarthy likes simple scenes, people walking along rail tracks or sitting on a porch sipping a beer, or shots of Fin asleep on his couch. It's a strange film to describe, and to recommend. There are few big scenes, or laughs, or heart-wrenching moments, and yet… you're a little different after you've seen it.