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, arms-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.
It is in the silences that McCarthy makes the most impact in unstudied moments where conversation lulls or an old and painful memory surfaces, veiling a face in sadness as the eyes look inward reliving the past. His scenes are static, stories told with the stillness itself, characters sitting together, drinking in the moment. His use of dialogue is spare, but each word is carefully chosen. As when the town’s hot young librarian studies Fin’s face as he fills out a form and gravely tells him that he has a nice chin. Fin, caught off guard, looks up with bemusement and waits a beat before saying thanks. And the gentle realization each character makes that being part of the world at large is worth the risk of being hurt, whether by a snide remark or a lover’s betrayal.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.