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
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
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,
~~ Jules Brenner