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The Station Agent - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

ONE of the most talked about films of last year’s London Film Festivals, not to mention the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, was Tom McCarthy’s 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 category.

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 quirks’.

It adds: "He’s 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 himself."

And, ironically, he didn’t 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 Finn’s isolation.

"But in many people’s 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.

US reaction

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'.

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