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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
About Trains and Friendship
by Betty Jo Tucker

In The Station Agent, a strong bond of friendship develops among three diverse characters -- an introverted dwarf, an outgoing hot dog vendor, and a grief-stricken woman. While watching these very different individuals try to understand and help each other, I felt like I was spying on an endearingly eccentric family. It's a gem of a movie, one evoking a spectrum of emotions running all the way from sadness and compassion to happiness and joy. But what makes this film special for me is its focus on trains.

I love trains almost as much as Fin (Peter Dinklage), the movie's main protagonist, does. If I had my way, I'd live on a train. Please forgive me, but I couldn't help being jealous of the shy dwarf when he inherited an abandoned railway station. Yes, I know many people have hurt him by making fun of his small size, and I realize it's difficult for him to relate to others. Still, Fin owns a railway station located right by the railroad tracks! He can walk those tracks whenever he wants to. He can fix up the station agent's old office and move in permanently. Which he does. And that's when Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a very talkative young man, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), an unhappy woman separated from her husband, start bothering him.

All Fin wants is to be left alone to enjoy his train-obsessed existence. However, avoiding Joe and Olivia becomes impossible. The former parks his hot dog stand across from the station agent's office; the latter practically runs him off the road -- twice. Fin gradually finds himself teaching both Joe and Olivia about train lore. As the three pals spend more and more time together, their fondness for each other grows stronger. Unfortunately, the path of true friendship sometimes includes dangerous obstacles -- even for Fin, Joe and Olivia.           

Sensitively written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, The Station Agent features performances that ring true in every scene. Dinklage's Fin and Cannavale's Joe play off each other delightfully. Fin learns to enjoy life through Joe's cheerful  prodding, and Joe gains an appreciation of Fin's needs and values. However, it's Clarkson who surprised me the most with her funny, poignant interpretation of a caring and confused woman suffering from the loss of a child. Whether looking off into space while remembering happier times or  giving Fin a tender goodnight kiss, she skillfully projects  Olivia's emotional vulnerability. Here's a mature actress at the top of her game; she really knows how to tug at the viewer's heartstrings.

If you're looking for a rip-roaring action movie, don't catch a ride with The Station Agent  -- but if an uplifting human interest story sounds good to you, come aboard. You won't be sorry.

DVD bonus materials include five deleted scenes with optional filmmaker commentary and feature commentary with director Thomas McCarthy and cast members Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale. Listening to enthusiastic comments from the actors and director, it becomes obvious how much they enjoyed working together on The Station Agent. McCarthy mentions "Clarkson gold" in his praise for some scenes with his leading actress-- and he's absolutely right. I admire Clarkson's splendid performance even more after watching this DVD. Although these bonus materials are not as sophisticated as those on many DVDs, they added to my appreciation of this very special film.        

(Released by Miramax Home Entertainment and rated "R" for language and some drug content. Bonus materials not rated.)     

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