The Station Agent

The Station Agent

****

Reviewed by: Claire Sawers

The best bits in this touching comedy are when no one says anything at all. It's not that the jokes aren't funny - on the contrary, there is a surprisingly dry and deadpan humour throughout. Occasional off-the-wall wisecracks are played down to perfection and thrown in with just the right amount of irreverence.

What's even better for comedy value though, are the moments of silence. Take the look of dignified disdain that Finbar Mcbride (Peter Dinklage) casts at the shopkeeper taking his photo when he goes to buy some milk. At four feet five inches tall, Fin's dwarfism has earned him prying stares and questions all of his life. The taunts wash over him now. It's not that he doesn't care, he has just numbed himself in order to go about his day to day life.

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But this shopkeeper, a woman - not one of the kids shouting "Where's Snow White?" after him in the street - should probably know better. And when Fin turns and half-smiles graciously at her, something in his raised eyebrow seems to be sharing a joke with us. He knows who the real freak is.

After a lifetime of midget jokes, Fin has become more and more anti-social. He doesn't want pity, he just wants to be left alone. Not in a cry-for-help, self-indulgent way. He really wants to be on his own. So when he inherits an old railway depot, he plans to finally live in the way he has always wanted to - in peace - but Joe (Bobby Cannavale), the hot-dog vendor who pitches up outside every morning has other ideas and is determined to become his buddy.

Joe positively craves human contact. He can't stand being on his own and even when Fin times him with a stopwatch, he finds it impossible to stay silent. Cannavale does a sterling job of acting like an eight-year-old boy in a muscly Spaniard's body and as Fin finds, his puppyish enthusiasm becomes irresistible.

The other type of silences that this film captures well is the warm-the-cockles-of-your-heart sort. One lingering shot of Peter Dinklage's unbelievably expressive face is enough. Straining not to smile at at another of Joe's lame jokes, we know Fin is being sucked into friendship, despite himself.

And when painter Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), struggling to come to terms with the death of her son, arrives, the scenes of she and Fin sharing each other's solitude in silence are incredibly moving.

The pace is gentle, the dialogue has been trimmed down to a minimum and the camera work is beautiful. Subtle, yet powerful acting makes this a must-see about finding friendship and happiness in the oddest of places.

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2004
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A man with dwarfism seeks solitude in rural New Jersey and develops a very unlikely friendship with a hot dog vendor and a painter.
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David Haviland ****

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Writer: Thomas McCarthy

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavalle, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Raven Goodwin

Year: 2003

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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