(Originally posted on 2/8/04)
A reclusive dwarf reluctantly finds a surrogate family and a chance for emotional liberation in Thomas McCarthy’s The Station Agent, a likeable drama that champions the cathartic power of overcoming self-imposed isolation. As the withdrawn train aficionado Fin -- a sullen dwarf who moves to the New Jersey town of Newfoundland (symbolism alert!) after inheriting a train depot from his recently deceased business partner -- Peter Dinklage gives an eloquently understated performance brimming with suppressed indignation over the unwanted attention his character’s diminutive height attracts. Befriended by a gregarious coffee truck operator (Bobby Cannavale) and a skittish older woman (Patricia Clarkson) mourning the death of her son, Fin gradually comes out of his cocoon and, in the process, helps his new friends do likewise. The story is creakily familiar, and the subplot concerning Clarkson’s deceased little boy is a disingenuous and lazy device designed to engender our sympathy. Nonetheless, McCarthy has an easygoing, straightforward directorial manner that bolsters his emotionally frank, semi-folksy screenplay, and Cannavale’s lapdog loyalty and Clarkson’s sultry, unpredictable volatility help complement Dinklage’s sterling work. The Station Agent is never more than a pleasurably quaint tale about overcoming life’s indignities by building a stable community of kindred spirits, but unlike most of this year’s award hopefuls, it consistently put a smile on my face.