The Station Agent – Film Review

A sweet and quirky comedy-drama about an unlikely trio of lonely souls coming together in a small town… and trains.

Like many people, my first exposure to Peter Dinklage was through his stellar, scene-stealing work in Game of Thrones. But before he was Tyrion Lannister, he had a lead role in this 2003 low-budget indie, where he plays Finbar “Fin” McBride, a taciturn and withdrawn train aficionado. Fin works in a model train store owned by an old man named Henry, who appears to be his only friend in the world, and his social life is restricted to being a quiet presence at the meetings of fellow train enthusiasts.

As far as the outside world is concerned, the only really interesting thing about Fin is his height; he’s a magnet for people with terrible manners who can’t pass a little person by without staring, loud whispers or outright insults. When his friend Henry dies and leaves Fin an abandoned train station near a small town called Newfoundland, the prospect of living and pursuing his hobbies in a middle of nowhere, in the safety of solitude, is irresistible.

Fin’s plans go awry almost instantly thanks to Joe (Bobby Cannavale), an upbeat young man running his father’s food-and-coffee wagon while the old man is recovering from illness. Naturally gregarious, cheerful and talkative, Joe is super-excited to finally have a new neighbour, and he forces himself into Fin’s life with the enthusiasm of a young puppy, not taking his monosyllabic answers and rebuffs as a discouragement. Another unexpected friend is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a troubled artist who’s moved to the small town after suffering an unimaginable personal loss. She’s also a terrible driver who accidentally sends Fin tumbling in a ditch twice on the same day, one of the film’s moments of humour that would have been pure slapstick in another film.

The Station Agent is the kind of quiet, low-key, unassuming movie that just clicks and works without much conflict or major drama. It’s a very simple story about friendship and found family between people who seem to have nothing in common except their loneliness, sweet without being cloying and offbeat without being too self-consciously quirky. It finds great charm and warmth in the interactions of the characters, without glossing over the destructive undercurrents of pain and anger that can at times threaten their friendship.

While Peter Dinklage owns the film, his co-stars are not far behind. Bobby Cannavale is an enormously appealing ball of energy as Joe, and Patricia Clarkson’s intelligent and sensual onscreen presence reminded me again what a criminally underrated character actress she is. Michelle Williams also has a small but radiant part as a local librarian girl, and a potential love interest for Fin.

I doubt that I would have discovered this unsung gem with – let’s face it – an uninspiring and dull-sounding title without the recent review from Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys), so big thanks to them for the recommendation.

P.S. Speaking of character actors, just about every tiny role in this movie was filled by somebody I recognised from a TV show, including the actress who played Magda, Miranda’s housekeeper in Sex and the City, randomly popping up as a lady behind the local store counter. I also had a giggle reminiscing about Bobby Cannavale’s brief but memorable appearance in SatC as Mr Funky Spunk – one of Samantha’s many lovers who was famous for his, uh, funky-tasting bodily fluids. Everyone’s career had to start somewhere I guess!

P.P.S. While I’ve never been obsessed with trains quite to the same degree, this film made me remember what a powerful romantic hold the trains had on my imagination as a kid. It made me want to get out in the countryside and walk the train tracks for miles, cross an old wooden train bridge over a river, or explore a yard full of old abandoned locomotives and carriages.

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