In this season of big blockbusters and major contenders for Oscar, there are a few small films not getting the attention they deserve. “The Station Agent” is one of those films.
“The Station Agent” tells the story of a man named Fin, a train enthusiast who lives a simple life working in a model train store with his best friend. When Fin inherits an abandoned train station, he decides to go and live there. However, his desire for a quiet life, free of complications and other people, does not come to fruition. Every time Fin tries to do normal daily activities like walking to the store, going to the library or even stepping out his front door, he encounters people who desire to befriend him. He is suspicious and even resentful at first, but soon realizes that these people need him in their lives, and he may even need them.
“The Station Agent,” like “Seabiscuit,” is about how people (a trio in each film) who are suffering often find support from the strangest places. Both movies are about broken, needy people. Both films show symbiotic relationships. Both films offer symbols for what the church should be: a place where people find community, a place where needs are met and love is shared. In reality one would hope that all the characters in “The Station Agent” would be able to find a faith community to encourage them as they struggle.
“The Station Agent’s” screenplay is hard to define. Some have described the film as a comedy. It does have some of the greatest laughs of any film this year. There are also moments of great poignancy, as moving as any drama. Basically, “Agent” is just a film about life. Most lives have humorous and sad moments. Most people have regrets and sorrows. Sometimes they make friends with new people because they cannot share their struggles with those from their past.
Because “Agent” does deal with life, some may be disappointed in the ending. There is some resolution, but not as much as Hollywood traditionally offers. The film, modeling life, does not wrap everything up in a simple, predictable way.
All the performances in “Agent” are noteworthy, but two clearly stand out. Peter Dinklage has received raves for his performance as Fin. He has also received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead. Dinklage’s performance balances Fin’s rage and kindness, making both believable. It is quite simply one of the best performances of the year.
Patricia Clarkson, who has done great work in several films this year, is also worthy of special note. When Clarkson’s Olivia arrives on screen, one easily concludes she is there for comic relief, but only too soon the audience learns there is great sadness behind her eccentricities.
Why is Fin so angry, and desirous of a solitary life? Put simply, Fin is a dwarf. There have been many good films made about discrimination and prejudice. Few have ever dealt with the subject of prejudice toward small people; none have been as revealing as “The Station Agent.” As with all intelligent films, this story has many meaningful elements. The struggle of being a small person is just one of the insights of the film. Certainly, there is no more powerful moment in the film than when Fin says to Olivia, “I wish people would see me as a person.”
“The Station Agent” has been listed as the “third best film of 2003” by the National Board of Review. Several critics have placed the film on their “Top Ten Lists.” However, chances are great that most people have not heard of “Agent.” It will come and go from theaters quickly if people who truly like compelling, heartfelt stories do not seek out this gem.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ablemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug content
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Writer: Thomas McCarthy
Cast: Finbar McBride: Peter Dinklage; Henry Styles: Paul Benjamin; Olivia Harris: Patricia Clarkson; Joe Oramas: Bobby Cannavale; Cleo: Raven Goodwin; Emily: Michelle Williams.
The movie’s official Web site.