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When The Station Agent co-producer (and one-time New Orleans resident) Kathryn Tucker was asked at the recent New Orleans Film Festival what she looks for in a script, she simply replied, "Heart." A loaded word if there ever were one, to be sure, but writer-director Tom McCarthy's film has, if nothing else, heart.

But as opposed to other films beating with this front-loaded ticker, McCarthy is all about reducing matters -- even in his protagonist. For in Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage), McCarthy has chosen a dwarf for the central symbol of loneliness and isolation we can all feel in life, and but for one off-key moment the selection and execution works. Dinklage's Fin is a walking bundle of enclosure, more at home with trains than he is the humans who are constantly intruding on his life. Some do it with their gawks and whispers; others because of a mysterious attraction and/or fascination with him. If he's looking to be alone, he ain't gonna find it in this story.

Which is a lot of the allure of The Station Agent, which unfortunately doesn't feel nearly as powerful a day or so after its viewing but remains one of the best films of the year. McCarthy, whom Tucker says wrote the parts specifically for his leads, uses deft little strokes in painting his characters. New Orleans' Patricia Clarkson's Olivia is adrift both from her ex-husband and her life, so distracted is she by her grief that she can barely navigate the roads of her small town. In a year filled with Clarkson performances (with Dogville yet to come), this is the most enjoyable so far. But my personal favorite is Bobby Cannavale as Joe, filling out the trilogy of lonely souls as a Cuban-American vendor dealing with a sick father and fewer friends who wiggles his way into Fin's life like a stray puppy.

The Station Agent tries to strike minor, not major chords, and the resolution of this odd triangle of friendship feels not nearly as dramatic as some might hope. But maybe that's McCarthy's point: Not everything has to be so damn big. -- Simmons

click to enlarge Emily (Michelle Williams) confides in a reluctant Fin - (Peter Dinklage) in Tom McCarthy's The Station - Agent.
  • Emily (Michelle Williams) confides in a reluctant Fin (Peter Dinklage) in Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent.
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