THE STATION AGENT is an unlikely critical and audience favorite. It doesn’t adhere to any cinematic formulas, nor does its leading man, Peter Dinklage, fall into the typical leading man mold. When I spoke with its writer/director, actor Tom McCarthy, on October 3rd, 2003, the momentum was just building following several festival screenings, including an award-winning premiere at Sundance. Our conversation ranged from the pros and cons of moving from in front of the camera to behind it, the delights of making his debut feature with his mother looking on, and why the film’s leading lady, Patricia Clarkson, is a goddess.
THE STATION AGENT is a quietly powerful film about the unspeakable awkwardness of life. Writer/director Thomas McCarthy won the Audience Award, at Sundance, and rightly so, for this tale of three disparate people who find themselves where they least expected, thrown together in this great messy adventure called life.
The hero is Fin, a 4’5″ train enthusiast who inherits an abandoned train station in the portentously named small town of Newfoundland, NJ. Played with subtle nuance by Peter Dinklage, Fin’s darkly handsome face reflects the truce that he’s called with life in lieu of making peace with his dwarfism. He’s perfected the art of a wary, arm’s-length civility in a world that regards him at best as memorable, at worst a refugee from a freak show. His first morning in Newfoundland, he meets Joe, who runs a food truck for his ailing father in front of Fin’s station, and Olivia, played by the preternaturally talented Patricia Clarkson, who almost runs him over twice with her SUV. Each is a study in isolation. Olivia is hiding from life after the death of her son and subsequent separation from her husband. Joe literally, with his truck parked in the middle of nowhere and customers who are few and far between. But Joe (Bobby Cannavale) is the gregarious type in a pushy, puppy dog sort of way and doesn’t take leave me alone for an answer, tagging along with Fin as he walks the rails or sits trainspotting. As for Olivia, she forces her company on Fin with a peace offering to make up for almost running him over and ends up trashing his home and collapsing drunk on his sofa. And thus does Fin’s life of careful order and obsession come crashing down along with his furniture to make way for something better.
The awkwardness of life being what it is, THE STATION AGENT is rife with both farce and transcendence, with pain and with joy, but a joy not tempered with the pain, but rather one that springs from it. When Fin cracks his first smile, the angels sing, and so does this film.