The Station Agent

culture

The Station Agent [2004]

This has to be one of the best character-driven films I've seen recently, due in large part to the intelligent but minimal script and the excellent performances from Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. It's quirky without being irritating and touching without being sentimental or mawkish.

Peter Dinklage plays a dwarf called Fin who inherits a disused train depot in New Jersey from fellow train enthusiast and business partner, Henry. Told that it's in the middle of nowhere, he goes to live there, sick of being stared at and sniggered about. To his apparent horror, when he wakes the next morning, he finds a hot dog van close to the depot, staffed by the infernally chirpy and friendly Joe, who seems unable to see that Fin doesn't want company. Later we meet artist Olivia, who has lost her son and is brittle with grief. Much of the film is about the complex relationship between the three of them while they try to reconcile the opposing forces of loneliness and a desire to be on their own.

Peter Dinklage's performance is particularly good, particularly since his dialogue is almost monosyllabic for much of the film. He manages to convey a huge amount with a look or body language, and portrays enormous reserves of quiet, resigned dignity with great skill. We see things through his eyes, which is excruciating at times. There's a toe-curling moment when he goes into a convenience store to get some supplies and is goggled at by the moronic owner. The woman gets his attention (in a similar way to the way you'd get a dog to look at you), then snaps a picture of him. When he later says (somewhat reluctantly) that he's angry, you can see why.

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