Preview by: Jack Foley
ONE of the most talked about films of last years London
Film Festivals, not to mention the 2003 Sundance Film Festival,
was Tom McCarthys The Station Agent.
The film focuses on a man born with dwarfism (played by Peter
Dinklage), who retreats from society, and becomes a loner.
When he finds himself stranded at an abandoned train depot, in
New Jersey, he is finally forced to come to terms with his shy
nature, and, in so doing, meets up with two other like-minded
loners, an artist (Patricia Clarkson), struggling with the death
of her son, and a friendly hot dog vendor, (played by Bobby Cannavale),
who hungers to share his love of food.
The movie won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival,
as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting accolade, in addition
to earning the special jury prize for Clarkson, in the best actor
While the London Film Festival website stated that McCarthy
takes a straightforward approach to his oddball characters, with
each emerging as a real person rather than a catalogue of amusing
It adds: "Hes helped no end by Dinklage, Clarkson
and Cannavale, who together form such a natural ensemble that
it becomes impossible to imagine one without the others."
The genesis of the story for Tom McCarthy, who himself hails
from New Jersey, was the actual train depot used in the film.
"I drove by it one day and something about it really struck
a chord with me," he explained. "The gentleman who owned
it turned out to be a rail fan, who took me to the kind of enthusiasts
meetings that you see at the beginning of the movie. And I just
fell in love with that world.
"I started thinking about how critical trains were in the
development of the US - connecting the coasts, and small towns
to big cities. For me the story was about the conflict in a man
who was obsessed with this phenomenon, but who was intent on isolating
And, ironically, he didnt conceive of Finn as a dwarf,
although he thought that Dinklage, whom he had directed on stage,
would be ideal for the role.
"From our first conversations, we were determined not to
make this a movie about being a dwarf," he says. "That
was simply the reason for Finns isolation.
"But in many peoples eyes it was an unsellable script
and Peter was the reason. They were just not ready to go with
a dwarf as a lead character. That was hard to hear, because he
is a dear friend of mine. There is a definitely a stigma attached
to people with dwarfism, although I think Peter has gone a long
way towards defeating that."
The film, however, has bucked any such fears to emerge as one
of the hot independent prospects for the coming year.
The film is due to open in the UK on March 26.
Critics in the States were virtually unanimous in their praise
for the film, when it opened last year, as were the majority of
people who saw it at the London Film Festival.
Entertainment Weekly, for instance, awarded it a B+ and
described it as strange and often funny, while E!
Online gave it an identical grade and referred to it as well-acted
and sweetly understated.
Film Threat gave it four out of five and wrote that it
manages to warm hearts in its own uncompromising way, rarely
cheating and never belittling.
While the New York Times praised it for being a delicate,
thoughtful and often hilarious take on loneliness.
Slant Magazine opined that the joy of The Station
Agent is how McCarthy evokes the loneliness of Finbar's life using
simple stretches of silence and a series of long shots that call
attention to the man's small stature.
And the Los Angeles Daily News wrote that it benefits
greatly from its three strong leads, McCarthy's gentle style and
a willingness to leave some things unsaid and others ambiguous.
Rolling Stone, meanwhile, felt that the three actors
could not be better.
Only Variety really had reservations, stating that it
was a well-acted and -crafted character piece that's a bit
too calculated and cutesy for its own good.
The San Francisco Examiner, meanwhile, felt that it 'carefully
and lovingly documents the ways in which these characters fill
their time and grow closer'.
While the Hollywood Reporter described it as 'a masterful
film and a bracing movie experience'.
A little less convinced was USA Today, which described
it as 'a very likable but - make no mistake - modest first feature'.
While the Chicago Sun-Times opined that 'yes, this is
a comedy, but it's also sad, and finally it's simply a story about
trying to figure out what you love to do and then trying to figure
out how to do it'.
Box Office Magazine, meanwhile, wrote that 'rarely has
friendship - honest, genuine friendship - been portrayed so truthfully,
with the gentle humor that belies real intimacy'.
And the Globe and Mail noted that it is 'the kind of film
that's sentimental but not sloppy, that invites you into its warm
heart without offending your cynical head'.
The New York Post, meanwhile, wrote that 'the powerfully
understated charmer, The Station Agent, is nothing more - and
nothing less -- than the quiet study of a gently unfurling friendship
between three misfits'.
But it is the Washington Post which concludes this round-up,
however, by stating that 'the best advice to filmgoers who appreciate
smart, mature, humanist movies is, simply, Go'.