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IN SHORT: A fabulous surprise! A close to great film for us grownups! [Rated R for language and some drug content. 90 minutes]
The bigger surprise is that, if you want to delve through Cranky's Archives to comparison shop our opinion vs. those of the Awards Committees at the Sundance Film Festival, you will rarely find us in agreement. Writer/Director Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent took three at Sundance. The Audience Award (which is where we chime in) as well as awards for the screenplay and the performance by Patricia Clarkson. (We've got one small gripe with those but it isn't a big deal since you won't be lugging little kids to this R rated film. Clarkson is instructed to use a certain four letter word far too many times and her delivery seems far out of character, at least to us.)
The Station Agent works beautifully because all it does is tell its story. Nothing fancy. Nothing film school or arthouse pretentious. Just the way we like 'em.
We've known one hard core train fanatic in our lifetime, he's now a conductor for Amtrak, so we're not at all surprised to learn that there is a subset of fans called train-chasers who film trains in action; show those films at club meetings and conventions and archive footage of old engines. You get to meet two of 'em, Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) and Henry Styles (Paul Benjamin), Fin's boss at the Golden Spike model train store of Hoboken, New Jersey. We'll come back to one of 'em in a moment.
Far enough away from Hoboken that it's positively rural is the town of Newfoundland, whose residential population isn't big enough to support its own train station, which was sold off years ago. Here you'll find divorced painter Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson) mourning the loss of her son and still at loggerheads with her ex, and hot dog vendor Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale). Joe's from Manhattan, and thus superior to all Jerseyites except for the fact that he's got no life of his own, has to care for a sickly father and doesn't think twice about sticking his nose into other people's business and then spreading his newfound knowledge among the masses. When Fin moves into the abandoned depot, Joe takes note. What could Fin possibly have with these losers? - - colloquially speaking, of course.
Fin, a grown man, topped out at four foot five inches. He's a dwarf, although according to the lady sitting behind us, "he has the most expressive eyes I've ever seen." Fin doesn't carry the emotional load of his height (and another unmentioned disability) well, which is why he is more than happy living in an abandoned train depot where no one will ever come a'calling. Except Joe, of course. How Olivia fits into the picture is just too damned funny to spill. Miramax hasn't asked us to keep our traps shut about it, but we advise you do when you tell friends about the film.
That's assuming you can find it on a big screen before it goes to DVD, as many indie productions seem to do more often than not. Even those that have the power of Miramax behind 'em.
McCarthy's script keeps its eye on the prize, working on developing characters we can care about. True, some are annoying and some are pathetic and some are just studs . . . it all comes together full throttle the evening Fin gets drunk at a surprisingly crowded local bar. What comes next, well, we were surprised. We're usually not, even more rarely with low budget indieflicks helmed by first timers. We were here.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Station Agent, he would have paid . . .
Seek it out. Kidlets need not care. This one's for grownups
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