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Tracking Shot: Peter Dinklage (front), Patricia Clarkson (center) and Bobby Cannavale walk the rails in 'The Station Agent.'

Ties That Bind

A loner train buff befriends emotional strays in Peter McCarthy's 'The Station Agent'

By Richard von Busack

IN THE PRETTY but silent New Jersey town of Newfoundland, a loner named Finbar (Peter Dinklage)--who happens to be a dwarf--inherits the derelict one-room train station. He busies himself with his sole obsession in life, the study and cataloging of trains. The lives of a few other people intersect his. He meets a straying elementary school student (Raven Goodwin, the asthmatic daughter in Lovely and Amazing). A flirty, pregnant librarian (the always-sweet Michelle Williams) befriends him, as does a chatty, lonely, Cuban coffee-wagon attendant (Bobby Cannavale). Most important is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a moody woman who lost her son in an accident.

Though it almost always skirts preciousness, The Station Agent can sometimes seem undernourished, particularly in the first half. The movie starts to fray whenever Clarkson's Olivia takes her leave from the screen. Still, The Station Agent's honest charm is undeniable.

Dinklage is best known as the dwarf who harangues Steve Buscemi about the dream sequence in Living in Oblivion. His acting works perfectly: one stops seeing him as "special" and starts noticing only his human vulnerability. And his solitariness is reflected in Clarkson's typical dryness, poise and shy humor. Her Olivia is a klutzy, impulsive woman given to violent mood swings. Playing a dedicated but talentless artist with paint-spattered clothes, Clarkson seems sensual for a change; this ace actress has never given a more well-rounded performance. The unspoken romance between Finbar and Olivia seems completely plausible. New Jersey, deep in green midsummer, never looked better, nor did the lazy life there ever look more inviting. The often subtle script and direction by Thomas McCarthy gives poignancy to the commonplace reaction it inspires: "If only people took better care of one another."


The Station Agent (R; 88 min.), directed and written by Thomas McCarthy, photographed by Oliver Bokelberg and starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Michelle Williams, opens Friday at the Camera 7 in Campbell.


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From the October 23-29, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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