Tom McCarthy’s big screen directing debut The Station Agent is a quiet taleof loneliness and friendship that proves films need not be drowned insentimentality in order to make an emotional impact.
Peter Dinklage stars as a misanthropic trainspotting dwarf called Fin whoinherits a disused railway station in the wilds of New Jersey. Expecting alife of quiet and solitude watching trains, Fin’s arrival in the sleepycommunity has rather the opposite effect, and he is instantly seized upon bytwo characters who are in their ways just as lonely and in need of friendshipas he is.
Fin, having almost completely withdrawn from society after too many years ofbeing the butt of jokes, puts up his defences against Joe (Bobby Cannavale),the Cuban-American snack truck man who likes nothing more than chatting. Andwhen Olivia, an artist struggling with the breakdown of her marriage and thedeath of her young son, runs him off the road not once but twice, Fin’ssolitude is quite ended. Slowly, Fin finds himself enmeshed in the lives ofhis neighbours, whether he wants to be or not.
The three, on the surface, have scarcely anything in common except theirshared circumstances, but their as their friendship develops it becomes clearthat they do need each other.
Peaceful country scenes and shots of railtrack characterise much ofMcCarthy’s film, lending it a palpable sense of space and solitude which windsaround the three central characters, and the story never feels contrived. YetMcCarthy still finds a near-perfect balance between serious and funny. Theexcellent score, featuring saw, gentle guitar and steel guitar perfectlymirrors the lonely moods of the characters.
Dinklage plays Fin as a difficult character to like, one who is defensive toa fault, yet we are always aware of why his alienation reached this point.Whenhe’s finally allowed to give vent to his frustrations it’s a good thing, forthe pent-up emotion at times threatens to engulf the film – but it’s no lessshocking when it happens.
Clarkson’s Olivia is tragic and funny in equal measure, and her face oftensays more than words could, while Cannavale’s over-talkative character Bobby issaved from being merely irritating by a sensitive performance and a genuinelydecent heart.
The Station Agent is a film of little action, where nothing much happens.Rather, its charm lies in feelings unspoken, sentiments unexpressed – making ita film of subtlety and insight, thoughtful direction and of finely drawncharacters. It is, in short, a little gem of a film – if Fin will pardon the puns.