BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE STATION AGENT

By • Jun 15th, 2004 •

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Miramax 2003
88 minutes / Rated ‘R’

There’s no transition from the first act to the second, therefore there is no second act. We’re dealing with a ninety-minute mood piece. Fifty one minutes into the film, Peter Dinklage cracks a great joke, and an ice floe seems to split open and let in the sea – the alienated serenity of the narrative opens wide and humanity pours in.

Dinklage plays Finn McBride, a hardened dwarf whose loves are railroads and the isolation bred from a lifetime of size-related offenses. When his employer dies and bequeaths him a non-functioning train station in Newfoundland, New York, he ‘retires’ to this tranquil existence, hoping to restore it, and to read. Nothing works as planned, however, and his life is instantly intruded on by Joe, a hapless food stand operator (Bobby Cannavale) and shattered, accident-prone Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), each living in the vicinity. Incident piles on incident with fairly rapid pacing, balancing the quiet sense of inner story and lack of outer crisis. A fair amount of narrative drive, fueled by the interaction of the offbeat trio, and framed by lovely scenery and color, leads us to the film’s appropriately open-ended fadeout.

In the admirable tradition of films like TENDER MERCIES, which eschew the ‘screenwriting weekend’ dogma and aims for a more evanescent, character-driven piece, THE STATION AGENT is undoubtedly a welcome change for filmgoers yearning for off-Hollywood fare. Much about the film, beyond its eccentric story, is pleasing. The cinematography offers delicate lighting, but more than that, it is particularly well- framed, even painterly, with vibrant rural hues. The DP’s eye compliments the art direction and choice of locations, which display the unerring hand of John Paino, Len Clayton and Erin Ohanneson. Such care and attention to detail could not have failed to help the actors in their tasks.

As for the actors, the cast is small and much rests on each of three major players and two minor ones. Dinklage, having previously radiated his anger in LIVING IN OBLIVION, has a lovely, resonant voice. Every time we hear his sullen, cultured tones, it snaps us back into preconceived notions about dwarves, and forces us to challenge them. That’s a strong subtext, and brings a lot of subliminal energy to the viewing. Patricia Clarkson, who won the 2003 NBR Supporting Actress award for both THE STATION AGENT and PIECES OF APRIL (I’m surprised the win wasn’t mentioned either on the DVD box or in the commentary), hits her mark in both light and heavily dramatic moments. Cannavale is also good, but he’s as off-putting and unsympathetic as he is believable, and sticking for a moment with his believability, I was never sold on his social attraction to Finn, which I attribute more to a script failing. He aggressively imposes himself on this loner’s life, and I can’t finally say with any conviction that I know why. Michelle Williams , as Emily the local librarian, is introduced wonderfully, her adolescent choice of ill-fitting dungarees hanging unattractively off her ass. She has a deliriously appealing smile, and shares a few of the film’s best moments with Dinklage. We’ve seen her before, in DAWSON’S CREEK, THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND, and as ‘young Sil’ in SPECIES! I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of her. We’d better!

Stephen Trask’s score is not injurious, but rarely right. It’s a little too light, frolicsome and familiar. Tom McArdle’s editing nails all the tricky rhythms.

Elsewhere on the DVD we’ve got a deleted scenes section, which I couldn’t access on my copy, and a commentary track featuring writer/director Thomas McCarthy and the three main actors. There is a warm sense of camaraderie among them; they love everything about the film, including little details we barely register, symptomatic of the preciousness of experience in making low-budget indies. Watching the film again as we listen to them gives us a second chance to get immersed in its fragile mise-en-scene. The film isn’t as funny as they think it is, but ‘droll’ is a wicked commodity when properly pulled off. Go too far with it and you get some of Jacques Tati’s less accessible work, or the Tati-inspired THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE. This film is one step closer to popular consumption then such efforts.


Cast: Peter Dinklage, Particia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Williams, Raven Goodwin

CREW:
Writer/Director – Thomas McCarthy.
Cinematography – Oliver Bokelberg.
Editor – Tom McArdle.
Production Design – John Paino.
Art Director – Len Clayton.
Props – Erin Ohanneson.

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