Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Station Agent

I recently signed up for NetFlix, which allows you to rate movies in order to allow the database to suggest films you might like. The hundreds of movie reviews I have posted on Epinions made the task quick and simple, allowing me to enter enough data to give the database a strong background to draw from. One movie (The Station Agent) drifted to the surface with a NetFlix suggested rating of 4.7 based on my viewing and rating habits. Close, but not an exact science. I would go with a solid 4 stars. I am glad NetFlix found this film for me, because I do not recall having seen this film when it was released in 2003.

The Station Agent has that quirky independent quality which I have enjoyed immensely from films like Lars and the Real Girl. The film briefly examines the relationship between and dwarf (Finbar McBride, played by Peter Dinklage) and an elderly man (Henry Styles, played by Paul Benjamin) who share their passion for trains. The two run a train hobby shop and sponsor “train chasing” film nights, where they live vicariously through members of their club who document their train travels on film. A quick turn events lands the dwarf in an abandoned train depot, where he takes up residence. Finbar (Fin) is a bit reclusive and finds it difficult to adjust to small town life.

The parking lot of the disused train station hosts a local hot dog vendor (Joe Oramas, played by Bobby Cannavalle) who boasts about his cafĂ© con leche. Joe is a talkative extrovert who forces his way into Fin’s personal space. Fin’s obvious reluctance to engage with Joe seems lost on Joe. In a pesky sort of way, Joe eventually seems to grow on Fin and the two spend some time together. The two are joined by a tortured artist (Olivia Harris, played by Patricia Clarkson) who’s grief over her lost son appears to be temporarily eased by the duo, before returning with intensity. The film follows the interaction between these strong likeable characters while exploring different issues.

The Station Agent seems to end a bit trivially for a film that holds great promise. Yet, I found myself reflecting on the characters and their interactions after the film in spite of the timid ending. With a drama that balances levity with some darker issues, you almost expect a dramatically intense conclusion, which never came. The rather mundane completion of this film left some questions unanswered, but did not leave me feeling unfulfilled. The characters reached me with their realism. The characters all had flaws which surfaced at different times during the film. Combined with the interesting dialogue and great chemistry, the characters provide the audience with a sense that we are witnessing real people.

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