The Station Agent (USA)

2003 USA

SUNDAY 29th July 10.00am
TUESDAY 31st July 8.00pm


When Henry (Paul Benjamin), his only friend, dies, Finbar (Peter Dinklage), born with dwarfism, inherits the abandoned cottage of a small town train depot at Newfoundland in rural New Jersey, USA. Though he tries to maintain a life of calm and solitude, he is soon entangled with Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a separated artist who is struggling with a personal tragedy and Joe (Bobby Cannavale), an over-friendly Cuban hot dog vendor nearby.


A beautifully simple yet satisfyingly complex story of characters intersecting at a rarely used railway siding, The Station Agent is a wry and restrained comedy with a dramatic inner core. Told with a measured and subdued tone, the film is nevertheless sparkling with its own energy, drawn from its unique characters and sparse setting.

Equally sparse is Stephen Trask’s Neil Young-esque score with its simple, echo-laden guitar stings, creating soundscapes to match the images. Writer/director Thomas McCarthy takes us inside Finbar’s psyche slowly and gently, until the character begins to form from the sum of his actions and snippets of information.

Warmly engaging and recognisably human, the three central characters are superbly drawn by Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale, as is Cleo, by the memorable young Raven Goodwin. Cleo is the underworked librarian of the place, but like all the characters in this film, she is no cardboard cutout; her personal drama becomes a part of the fabric of the film’s emotional carpet, on which McCarthy takes a flight to unpredictable destinations.

It’s McCarthy’s aptitude for character that drives the film, and our enjoyment in discovering these disparate people is in the way they interlock, as showcased so effortlessly and economically in the final shot. The Station Agent is a wonderfully uplifting work, honest, real and yet magical.


First time writer/director Tom McCarthy was fascinated by the way railroads connect people and communities, and how, in the frontier days, the station agent was the pivot for the entire community. Not only did he collect and distribute the mail brought by the trains, but he sold groceries and even acted as the local barber. The script is uncluttered and loneliness quickly becomes a character. Music, too, is used to great effect, colouring the mood by the simplicity of isolated chords. But our attention is taken most of all by Fin, the 4 foot 5 inch hero, whose deep voice and calmness belie an unspoken anger that is bottled up inside. We feel his desperation at being the constant object of curiosity, and we understand why he is eager to escape the prying eyes of all around him.

Although Fin is to start his new life in Newfoundland as inconspicuously as possible, he doesn’t seem to be able to avoid the talkative Cuban snack vendor Joe and the emotionally fragile artist Olivia who is running away from her emotions. The contrast between these three characters could not be greater, and scenes with them sitting on the train tracks eating beef jerky or sitting in rocking chairs smoking joints and watching their homemade movies of ‘train chasing’ are most endearing.

MrCarthy wrote all three roles especially for the actors and they fit like gloves. Peter Dinklage is splendid as the little man who just wants to be treated like everyone else. He is calm and the way he delivers simple words has great poignancy. Patricia Clarkson makes her Olivia feel as though she is surrounded by an aura of tragedy and pain; she is drawn to Fin without really knowing why, as is Bobby Cannavale’s chatty, almost hyperactive Joe. There’s a sense of voyeurism as we get to know all the characters, but it’s what lies underneath the surface that touches us.

The Station Agent is an honest film, exploring emotions and friendship. It never promises the impossible or even the improbable, but allows us to connect with its characters as they come to terms with themselves and each other.

Seemingly simple, yet overwhelmingly complex, it’s a warm and engaging story about a loner intent on solitude, who becomes a hub for friendship. With its uncluttered script and touching performances, this is a film that leaves an impact. Uplifting in a gentle way, somehow we feel richer just for having met the characters. They’re rather special.