The Station Agent Review
Tom McCarthy's acclaimed comedy is one that could be interpreted in a number of ways, but one that I like to think is about the periods of silence in our lives that we share with others. Be they the more common uncomfortable moments or the times where silence feels right, when sharing a peaceful moment with friends says more for the relationships formed than any number of anecdotes or topics of discussion could ever achieve. This delightfully paced and above all exceedingly charming comedy follows the lives of three very different people, engineering these periods of silence with a precision that, whether or not you are aware of the work going on behind-the-scenes, always manages to elicit the desired reaction from you, the enamoured viewer.
The casting of Peter Dinklage in the lead role of Finn is both essential to the films proceedings, and a blessing for his portrayal is one with much to commend. Finn is a person of moderate height, a little man, a midget, a dwarf, "mini-me", whichever way you choose to label him (be it politically correct or not) Finn is someone who due to societies inability to look beyond his physical appearance has isolated himself from, well, everyone. Living in the city and working in a model train store, Finn is content as he pursues his love of trains, but all is set to change when his only friend and owner of the store suddenly dies. Though left jobless from this tragedy, Finn inherits an unused station depot in a sparsely populated area of New Jersey which he sees as an opportunity to isolate himself further and continue in the pursuit of his hobby. Upon arrival however, Finn discovers equally isolated souls that nudge their way into his life and change it with both positive and negative results along the way, but ultimately for the better.
First of all we have Joe, a Cuban-American who falls neatly into the rather apt description of Joe-average. He's a nice guy, open and friendly, more so due to his Cuban heritage which is played up here through passing mention of his ailing father whom Joe is lovingly yet begrudgingly looking after, and helping out by running the family business - a roadside coffee stand that frequently operates outside Finn's new home. Completing the primary trio is Olivia, a slightly ditzy woman in the prime of her life with that "sexy, smart older women thing going, it's nice" as Joe would say. Complicating her life is the death of her young son, two years prior, an event which she has never come to terms with and has since resulted in a separation from her husband. Like Finn she has isolated herself from society, for very different reasons while Joe is the opposite, in that he feels isolated by a town which is lacking in 'cool' people.
Completing the roster of isolated characters is the young, cute librarian who feels cut off from her family due to an unplanned pregnancy and the little chubby schoolgirl who takes a liking to Finn whom she meets on her regular solitary excursions along the railway tracks. Each present further examples of the everyday rejection we see in society, while also presenting the viewer with inquisitive and often amusing questions on how we look at men of Finn's stature. And this is what McCarthy's film does so brilliantly, it weaves together an intriguing plotline that follows a character who is gradually broken down so that he no longer uses self-awareness of his size as a means to escape the, excuse the pun, larger issues at hand, into someone who accepts other people and the problems they have. It then somewhat turns the concept on its head as he in turn finds himself being rejected in the same way he initially rejected them, when problems in their own lives compound their ability to be accepting of a helping hand. Beautifully written and sensitively portrayed, there are few moments here which do not ring true in our own lives, while the secondary purpose of the film seems to be that of educating the audience, never with a heavy hand, but instead a comedic slap as it presents us with situations that Finn and others of his size frequently encounter, making us ask questions of ourselves and others which extend beyond 'why do we stop and stare?' to 'Yes, I do want to know if they have sexual relationships with 'regular' sized people'!
Picture and Sound
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen the presentation here is very much in line with an independent production from recent times, slightly rough in appearance due to the Super 16 film stock with minimal visible grain and a slightly dull colour scheme. Blacks are very deep and long shots are fairly well defined, though never overflowing with fine details while the compression allows for some aliasing in said shots to make itself known. On the whole this is a good, but never great transfer.
In terms of audio we have an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix that is technically free of glitches, but given the dialogue heavy nature of the film little real use of the soundstage is present making this a front heavy track that does nothing to put your home cinema setup to the test. None of this really matters of course, as dialogue is clearly reproduced as is the pleasant and fitting original score that accompanies the action.
A French 5.1 dub is also available, along with optional English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish subtitles, none of which extend to cover the bonus features.
Writer/Director Tom McCarthy is joined by leads Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale for a screen-specific audio commentary which sees them share stories from the set and thoughts on the scenes in question. Though lacking in discussion on some of the subtext I certainly found within the film they do provide some insight to the films genesis, but it's their obvious friendship that pleases the most as it keeps the conversation flowing and helps to explain the final cuts charm.
Four deleted scenes run for a total of four minutes and include short cuts that were removed for time, and a sequence that would have formed the beginning of an alternate ending. Interesting, short, and available with an optional audio commentary with director McCarthy and leads Peter Dinklage and Bobby Canavale, who again in the short time available offer some brief comments explaining why the scenes were excised.
The Station Agent is a beautifully crafted piece that succeeds primarily through its wonderful leads whose onscreen chemistry sells the quiet, contemplative moments between friends that we all hold so dear. Any failings come from it being a touch over sensitive at times while the endearing character found in Joe is lacking in any real background detail, but you can easily overlook these niggles thanks to the delicate pacing and frequently charming comedy present.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:25:21