The film has nothing but characters, and that is all it needs.
Peter Dinklage will lose an Oscar to Bill Murray or Sean Penn this year, but his role as introverted dwarf Finbar McBride addicted to trains is going to be a winner in my heart just as the film was at Sundance. Tom McCarthy's "Station Agent" is a career-defining role for Dinklage.
The film has nothing but characters, and that is all it needs: a dwarf who inherits a train depot in New Jersey, a Cuban hot dog vendor whose love of life is overwhelming, and an attractive middle-aged artist still in shock over the death of her son. These characters are all experiencing loss: Fin's best friend, an elderly black owner of a hobby shop dies; Cuban Joe's ailing dad demands most of Joe's attention while he sells caf? con leche from his dad's hot-dog truck to help him; and Olivia is separated from her handsome, accomplished husband and can barely drive her Grand Cherokee without hitting Fin.
Director/writer McCarthy keeps his background spare as kitchen-sink director Mike Leigh does, but he sometimes forsakes reality for the feel of loneliness. In "Station Agent" there are few other cars and few other people on the streets. No scene better expresses Fin's need to be left alone and Joe's to have companionship:
"If you guys do something later, can I join you?" Joe asks Fin. "We're not doing anything later," Fin replies. "But if you do," Joe pleads. The exchange goes on for comedic effect but also to intimate Joe's desperation to make a human connection and Fin's aversion to it.
So we are engrossed in the passage of Fin from a short man shown many times in long shots to emphasize his loneliness into a gregarious, pot-smoking eccentric in close-ups. The film's major symbol, the regulated trains, culminates in the three characters walking on the tracks, called "walking the right of way." They are not there yet, but the right way is almost upon them.