Cinema Signal:

Those Magnificent Trains
2004 12-month Wall Calendar

. "The Station Agent"

In this good natured study of humanity, writer-director Tom McCarthy assembles a small group of such disparate characters and backgrounds you'd think he was trying to say something about the extreme social possibilities that thrive in America. And, he says it well, with no bow to the ka-ching of the boxoffice nor to the mainstream hunger for bombast and destruction.

Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a man who just wants to be left alone. When we first see him, he's a contented toy train repairman in the specialty shop run by his boss Paul Benjamin (Henry Stiles). Here he can hide from public view while fitting his dwarf-size frame behind his repair desk. Here, he's free from the abuse and derision that has molded his taste for isolation.

Fate, however, takes an unexpected turn when Benjamin dies and, understanding Fin's love for trains and the railroad, leaves him his property in a remote town in rural New Jersey, an old, unused train station along the tracks that he fully owned. Fin finds it much to his liking, seeming to perfectly fit his preference for privacy. Only...

Well, there are two things that interrupt his peace and contemplation. On a walk to the closest convenience store he's nearly run down by Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson) a flustered housewife with a cell phone to distract her from a straight cruise down the quiet road. Well, not exactly wife, since she's divorced, but she does occupy a good sized house in town where she paints her pained portaits. Fin, thrown to the side of the road to escape vehicular manslaughter, fends off Olivia's attempt to make amends.

Then, Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale) shows up with his snack truck which he parks outside Fin's train station house. There's a convenience to be had in this proximity, but Joe turns out to be a totally gregarious nut who takes an immediate liking to Fin, seeing not his shortness of stature but a fascinating person.

Fin's isolation is eroded by these and other well meaning neighbors, at first straining his private nature but, as intrusions slowly become connections and as he learns to accept the complexities of friendship, he takes his place as a permanent and contributing member of the community.

The symbolism of the abandoned railroad depot suddenly becoming inhabited speaks to the changeability of a vibrant country's ongoing destiny. Bring to that the subculture of train enthusiasts who can't get enough of the American Railroad and the self-isolation of a dwarf and you get a taste of what inspired actor ("Meet the Parents")/first time writer-director McCarthy to create it. But what raises it to a higher level are the characters.

Peter Dinklage plays the dwarf Fin with no suggestion of falsity, giving us the portrait of a man who has learned to cope with unwanted attentions and gross insensitivities. We understand why he would embrace solitude, and fully enjoy both the humor and the difficulty of emerging out of a self-built shell. There's nothing short about his acting skills.

Irrepressible Bobby Cannavale produces the most outrageously exuberant verbal onslaught to break a hermit's protective crust to a pulp. His loquashisness knows no bounds, his vocal flow is a river of good intentions -- the perfect antidote to anyone's retreat from society. You constantly want to turn his faucet off but you can't help loving the eager good nature that sputters even when he vows silence. If this were a more mainstream film, this performance would merit a look at oscar time.

Equally high on the unforgettable list is Patricia Clarkson's Olivia. By turns a menacing accident-prone ditz, a reluctant vixen and a lost soul trying to accept the death of her young son, she's a stimulating presence in this film's good fortunes. At 44, she's plenty sexy. In "Far From Heaven" she played best-friend Eleanor. She has the quality to make you want her as your friend, too.

It all comes together in a quiet consistency that molds new realities in the characters' lives. What's most salient is how they're allowed to find their way into their changes. Nothing forced, lovingly crafted, compassionate, humorous.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written, Insightful
I've seen the movie and the review adds meaning to the movie for me.
Site rating: 7
The Movie is a true Gem, and Mr. Dinklage is most handsome. Why is THAT fact always whispered? I envy any woman or man in his life.
                                                      ~~ Abigail O.
Well written
This review will influence me to recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 10
Interesting analysis of characters.
                                                      ~~ Adams
Off base
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 1
this was a terrible movie that i didn't even understand,,,it made no sense, and there was hardly any dialogue
                                                      ~~ Rich H.

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Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale
Walking the "right of way"

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