The Station Agent

Oct 29, 2003 at 12:00 am

Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a quiet, reclusive dwarf with a mundane life. He hangs out on the roof of his Hoboken apartment building. He walks to work at a toy train shop. He and his boss, Henry (Paul Benjamin), have a friendship of few words. The only community they share is the reclusive world of train-chasers and railfans. His diminutive size invites the jeering of children and boors, and that is about as exciting as his life gets.

That is, until the day Henry dies unexpectedly. Finbar learns that Henry has left him a piece of property, an old depot in an out-of-the-way part of New Jersey. With little left for him in Hoboken, Fin, who doesn’t drive, walks along the railroad to the property. He appears ready for retirement and a life of solitude. The only problem is that nobody will leave him alone.

From the first day he sets foot in the sleepy town, he encounters Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a motor-mouth Manhattanite who runs a lunch truck near the depot. He also crosses the path (literally, twice almost getting run down by her car!) of Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a slightly loopy fortysomething artist separated from her husband and haunted by the death of her son. She tries to make amends for almost killing Fin, who bears her invasion of his life with what aplomb he can muster.

Interestingly, Finbar is caught between two extremes that serve similar purposes. Joe is always yammering away into his cell phone or at anybody within earshot, perhaps to avoid dealing with his own unhappy realities. Olivia is preoccupied with her grief, often choosing not to engage the world. As she observes, “I have two phones and I never answer them.”

It’s fascinating to watch how the people Finbar reluctantly allows to barge into his life are less “normal” than a railfan dwarf who doesn’t have a telephone and never learned to drive. As they roam the desolate landscapes of rural New Jersey, Finbar’s size sets him apart, but when the camera moves in for close-ups, his expressive eyes and deep voice give him a quiet gravity that makes for an arresting screen presence.

The script explores the choice between engaging society or retreating into our own distractions, whether they be railroad timetables or jangling cell phones. Engaging the world brings uncertainty and sometimes pain. Far from the hobbyists playing with toy trains back in Hoboken, Finbar could be on his way to becoming more well-rounded. But when Finbar sometimes retreats into his world, staring through the depot windows, watching the trains go by, we can all relate to that too.

With an excellent and often very funny script, genuinely moving drama, superb performances, and appealingly offbeat characters, viewers should certainly walk out of the cinema feeling hopeful about engaging the world.


Showing exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

E-mail Michael Jackman at [email protected].