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The Station Agent Reviews

Often the only thing worse than an actor who wants to direct is an actor who actually does, but actor-turned-writer/director Tom McCarthy's first feature is a sweet and genuinely quirky delight. Dressed in a sharp black suit and standing only 4 feet 5 inches tall, Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is bound to attract notice on Hoboken streets as he trudges to and from work at the model-train shop owned by his friend Henry (Paul Benjamin). But either Fin's gotten used to the snickers, the stares and the Snow White jokes, or he simply no longer cares; the only thing Fin does seem to care about are trains. A trainspotter in the truest sense, Fin likes nothing more than hanging around yards, poring over schedules or meeting with the members of his club, watching home movies of trains they've known and loved. Fin's life takes an unexpected detour the day Henry drops dead, leaving Fin a decommissioned train depot on half an acre in rural New Jersey. Fin packs a small bag and follows the rails to his new home where, without a phone, electricity or running water, he intends to indulge his passion in peaceful isolation. But his first morning there, Fin steps outside to find the boisterous Joe (Bobby Cannavale) manning a snack truck in the parking lot. Stuck in the middle of nowhere and bored, Joe eagerly offers the last thing Fin wants: company. That afternoon, while negotiating the side of a narrow country road, Fin is nearly run down — twice — by painter Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson), who's retreated to her getaway house to escape her marriage and the pain of a terrible tragedy. Olivia nearly breaks through Fin's shell, only to retreat into her own when her husband (John Slattery) suddenly reappears. Only Joe, a needy extrovert engaged in an unconditional love affair with life, can draw them together again. This warm and charmingly unassuming three-character comedy won the Audience Award for Best Drama at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival — Clarkson won the Jury Prize for Outstanding Performance — and there's an awful lot here for audiences to love; Cannavale in particular is a genuine crowd-pleaser. With its quiet pacing and dry-as-a-bone wit, the film strongly recalls the deadpan comedies of Jim Jarmusch or early Hal Hartley, but it gradually reveals a welcome new sensibility, one that's entirely McCarthy's own.