Fin is an independent man with a passion for old trains. He’s also a dwarf. When he inherits an old depot in a remote New Jersey town, he moves there in search of peace and isolation. But even in an abandoned train depot, no man is an island. Fin (Peter Dinklage) attracts companionship like a commuter train draws passengers. And his prospect of solitude grows distant like a train whistle in the night.
Rottentomatoes.com rated The Station Agent at 100 percent, which means that of 30-some reviews, all were thumbs-up. Impressive—and rare. Personally, I found it original, charming, funny, and well executed. The film’s one shortcoming was in establishing why people, especially women, were so drawn to Fin that they could not leave him alone. If this sometimes-extreme behavior was supposed to be comedy, it needed a little ramping up. Nevertheless, the quiet, freeform story with its marvelous photography delivers uncommon entertainment.
The cast and director succeed big time in the art of understatement. Patricia Clarkson, the queen of quirky independent film, plays Olivia, a divorcée who mourns her dead son and bears her crippling pain in private. Bobby Cannavale is irresistibly hilarious as Joe, the chatty hot dog and latté vendor who craves companionship and continuous conversation. And Dinklage is outstanding as Fin, a lonely but self-reliant man of small stature who refuses to open up to others. He initiates conversation only out of necessity and replies to questions as briefly as possible so he can remain definitively alone.
The beauty of this strange film lies in its delivery of the unexpected through minimal dialogue, unstructured storyline, and comical contrast of characters. We are flies on the wall witnessing the intersection of three mismatched people with little in common. But writer/director Tom McCarthy runs full steam ahead with this curious situation, allowing us to float in the vast spaces between conversations and marvel at the mysteries of human nature. And in the end, McCarthy and his odd characters teach us a thing or two about trains and station agents, and mostly about people of all sizes.