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The Station Agent

  The Station Agent
Patricia Clarkson hopes for a glimpse of Bobby Cannavale's gorgeous frank.

© 2003, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

Fin (Peter Dinklage "Human Nature") is a locomotive enthusiast who has inherited a train station in rural New Jersey. Choosing a life of solitude due to his dwarfism, Fin eagerly takes the opportunity to head out to the middle of nowhere and set up a home for himself. On the property is a hot dog vendor named Joe (Bobby Cannavale, "The Guru") who desires human contact at all times, much to the chagrin of Fin. Also intertwining into Fin's life is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson, "Far From Heaven"), a grieving mother who is in the middle of a separation and takes a shine to Fin and Joe in her time of need.

"The Station Agent" (IMDb listing) recalls the films that came with the American independent movement in the mid-to-late 1990s. It is an extraordinarily simple, obscenely low-budgeted feature, featuring a cast of actors who appear only because they desire a change of pace. Because of the low-tech nature of the film, it takes on subjects that wouldn't normally be covered, such as the central character of Fin, who is a dwarf. Writer/Director Thomas McCarthy does a good job in the opening sections of the film setting up the lonely, quiet world in which Fin lives, allocating moments to showcase the daily hecklings Fin receives that have made him such an anti-social person. McCarthy doesn't lay on the drama too thick, choosing a muted comedy feel to lead the way for "Agent," creating a very easygoing atmosphere that matches the modest texture of the cinematography and production values.

When the expected dramatic pull begins to form in the film's second half, "Agent" goes from a film lighter than air to 2,000 tons in your lap in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, the script wants Fin to start unraveling, and doesn't give him much reason to. Fin also addresses his dwarfism to a crowd of drunks at a bar in a scene that is both unearned and unfortunate in execution. McCarthy makes stronger points by having the dwarfism addressed through the peripheral characters. "Agent" eventually erupts into suicide attempts and other nonsense, leading me to wonder what happened to the delightful, insightful film that was in front of my eyes earlier in the hour. McCarthy's screenplay structure is far too suffocating, and he kills the themes of "Agent" before they even have a chance to develop.

Whatever dramatic weights there are in "Agent," they don't muck up the fine performances. Clarkson and Cannavale are great in their roles; both have polar opposite temperaments, but they are able to connect through their shared friendship with Fin. Clarkson seems to have a monopoly recently on the haggard middle-aged woman role, yet she never repeats herself. The star is Dinklage, and the actor reveals a side to his talent that doesn't get a chance to come out often. While his small cameo was the only thing worth watching in Eric Schaeffer's 2002 stinker "Never Again," Dinklage is front and center in "Agent," and a perfect choice for the role. The only false notes in his performance are the ones McCarthy has written for him.

The conclusion to "The Station Agent" comes very abruptly. So much so, that I was settling in for a calm, 20-minute denouement, only to see end credits where a typical cooling off period usually comes in indie dramas. Maybe this is for the best, as McCarthy has dunked his film in way over its head, and the only way to stop the damage is to duck out as fast as possible. A noble gesture for an admirable, but flawed film.

Filmfodder Grade: B-

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