The Station Agent
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy

Starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale


The Station Agent

Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf, terminally depressed, who lives alone in a barren room above the model railroad store in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he works with his partner or boss Henry (Paul Benjamin), who lives across the hall. Fin can barely speak to Henry; the two of them work silently, and obviously have done it that way for years.

Then Henry dies suddenly, and Fin finds he's been left a piece of property in rural New Jersey: it's an abandoned railroad depot on an old single-track line. He moves in, though it has no water or electricity, in order to continue his solitary life; others have no place in it at all. But he finds that a coffee wagon run by Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale) parks outside every day, and Joe is both garrulous and not to be denied when he's in the mood to visit, which is often. Then an artist nearby, Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson), soon to be divorced and feeling very shaky, makes unexpected contact with Fin - she nearly runs him over as he's walking along the road. "The Station Agent" is the story of three strangely matched or mismatched souls and their time together.

The film won awards at Sundance last winter (Audience awards for writer-director Thomas McCarthy and for Clarkson as best actress), but for me "The Station Agent" is only half a film. After establishing its people and its locale, McCarthy seems not to know what to do with them. The film is repetitious without using that repetition to illuminate anything beyond itself. Nothing moves, nothing changes, no one grows or undergoes a catharsis or epiphany or even a crisis. Small encounters that should reveal larger truths remain simply small encounters. Dinklage does his best with a monotonous character - why can't he relate? why does he run from any relationship? we never find out - and both Clarkson and Cannavale, whose characters are thankfully more fleshed out, are compelling on screen, but the film remains static. Even a young girl who's insatiably curious (Raven Goodwin) can't do much with Fin. If Dinklage were not a dwarf, carrying all the empathy an audience automatically feels for him, I wonder whether the film would have any interest at all. Time after time McCarthy ignores or throws away chances for a more powerful experience, and so the film remains an exercise rather than a work of art.