|A meandering yet affecting film, The Station Agent is brimming with gratifying performances that test the actors' strength as much as the audience's. Usually employed on film as Lilliputian curiosities or costumed characters (think Ewoks), dwarves haven't traditionally been chosen to portray characters whose appearance in the film didn't have something to do with fairies or pots of gold. And though "Finbar McBride's" dwarfism is a bone of contention for that character, his problems are much more "everyman" than unusual. Like somebody who has blue hair or one too many piercing or a rather lot of tattoos, McBride has problems that anyone who doesn't fit the exact mold of normal might encounter.|
It's an interesting dilemma in Agent as McBride is a man who tries so incredibly hard to fit in with "normal" that his appearance is anything but. Because of society's preconceived notions of the lives of little people, on the surface, the film appears to be a teaching tool to show people that "dwarves are people too." But what the film actually succeeds in doing is in transforming McBride into a mildly depressed man who struggles greatly in making friendships. But however familiar McBride's problems appear to be, the curiosity is still there and the film cannot escape that element of fascination audiences have with things that don't fit in neatly with the status quo.
How does one make a film about a four foot tall man and not turn the film into an experience that deals solely with that aspect? It's a difficult task, but director and writer Thomas McCarthy has created quite a moving piece of human drama that straddles that interesting border between commonplace and rare. So many times films made on independent sized budgets (the budget on this film was $400,000 US) try to show the "real, grittiness of the working-class individual" and too often, those films don't affect an audience as deeply as they should because of their lack of warmth. The Station Agent deals with some strong emotions, but there is laughter usually present in some form or another, much the same way as it is in real life in even the most depressing times.
In remembering that human life, no matter how deep and dark, has moments of lightness, McCarthy is able to allow his actors a more realistic portrayal of their characters. It's difficult to take your eyes off of star Peter Dinklage, not simply because of his stature, but because his absolutely impressive grasp on both the comedic and the dramatic. It's simply heartbreaking to see McBride's sadness ebb and flow over the course of the film. Acting opposite Dinklage as a recently divorced mother of a dead child, Patricia Clarkson, playing "Olivia Harris," is remarkable with a performance that ranges from subtle to manic. The third member of this odd trio of friends, "Joe," played by Bobby Cannavale, is an intriguing character who seems to be completely without tact, but who easily endears himself to the audience.
Technical elements such as cinematography are an obvious result of a low budget (the film was shot on 16mm film), but interestingly, the quality of the picture seems to improve as the film progresses. The early scenes could have easily been shot on a video camera for all their lack of clarity, while later scenes seem to have more clarity. The rural nature of the film gives way to easily captured small-town vistas, though the battle between the beautiful and the bland is always evident with the greenery of the trees seeming to encroach upon the classic dingy small town whose buildings could use a fresh coat of paint.
The film is greatly helped by its strong performances and the willingness of the actors to use silence (and body movements) as a tool to get their emotions and opinions across to the audience. It's worth mentioning that the editing of the film is responsible for the success of much of the comic timing as editor Tom McArdle finds a proper balance between the importance of comic timing and dramatic action. The film's status as a "dramady" is made so largely because of his editing.
And the actors' physical actions are responsible for about fifty percent of the comedy in the film, with McCarthy's dialogue eliminating any slack that might have appeared in a weaker script. While the filmmakers seemingly try to present the normal problems of their characters in as realistic a way as possible, the film itself is anything but normal and is much closer to extraordinary in its ability to entertain and keep your interest.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.