Review: The Station Agent (2003)

station agent

A little light reading: SenArt Films/Next Wednesday Productions

THE STATION AGENT is an unassuming but punchy little film well worth your time. Measured pacing, naturalistic performances and the trainspotting subject matter might not seem like selling points, but trust me, they really are.

After the sudden loss of his only friend, train enthusiast Fin (Peter Dinklage) moves into an abandoned station agent’s house to indulge his passion on his own. But try as he might, Fin cannot help but begin to open up to two fellow outcasts, the chattiest snack van guy around (Bobby Cannavale) and an accident-prone eccentric (Patricia Clarkson). 

I relate to Fin perhaps more than almost any other film character I can think of. He’s a thoughtful introvert who, for some reason, is really attractive to extroverts. As a bunch, we don’t want to be rude, but we’d prefer to be left alone if given the option. From personal experience I’ve found that extroverts tend to gradually wear us down and through their sheer persistence they eventually break through, making us better, more balanced people in the process. .

At its heart, The Station Agent is all about alienation, so what better subculture to feature but trainspotters? That’s not me trying to make fun or pick easy targets (all power to you if that’s what you’re in to), but as a passion, it’s a niche one that quite often asks for solitude, or at the very most spotting in pairs. You must spend so much time wrapped up in your own thoughts or focussed so intently on what is front of you or just speeding past on a track, the rest of the world could pass you by.

Dinklage has one of the best “why does this crap keep happening to me?” faces out there. Most casual viewers today just think of him as Tyrion, and I for one can’t wait for the day, in about a year’s time, where he can start to take on more interesting, low-key roles again. The dynamics of the core trio are fascinating, with two introverts in Fin and Olivia and an extrovert in Joe, we see how the balance of conversation, power and comfortableness shifts as any one of the three isn’t around. “I’m not used to having people in my house, especially loud people” grumbles Olivia to Fin as Joe’s voice booms from the next room.

All three friends are going through pain and trauma, Fin from birth (who has become numb to it all), Olivia later (recovering but recurring hurt) and Joe later still (still coming to terms with what is still going on in his life). All they really have is each other and the presence of mind to enjoy the little things.

Fin’s dwarfism is obviously referenced, and it is often a subject of ridicule or fascination to other characters, but the film isn’t really about that. Even in a key scene late on, when Fin confronts a crowded bar over how he is perceived, it’s more about him admitting he is, and always will be, a loner. Arguably, it is Fin’s chosen hobby, associated trappings and general shyness that impact his life more than his stature. “It’s really funny how different people see me and treat me, because I’m actually a really simple, boring person”. This key scene is not saying “Look at me, I’m a little person!”, it’s “Look at me, I’m an introvert!”.

This is one of the best “summer of nothing” movies I’ve seen, and it’s all down to the characters working so well together, even when they don’t seem to be getting on. They need each other and they probably always will, and the realness of it is the sweeter side of bittersweet.

Tom McCarthy tells hard-hitting stories packed to the brim with soul, whether factually true (SPOTLIGHT) or emotionally true (The Station Agent). If this unassuming little gem of a film with a big, throbbing heart has passed you by, The Station Agent is well worth seeking out. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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3 Responses to Review: The Station Agent (2003)

  1. indiefan20 says:

    I did’t really like this film the first time I saw it, but it grew on me the second time. I think it’s a movie you kind of have to be in the mood for. Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson are two of my favorite actors. 🙂

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