The Station Agent

The Station Agent Information

The Station Agent is a 2003 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. McCarthy's script about a man who seeks solitude in an abandoned train station in the Newfoundland section of Rockaway Township, New Jersey won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.


Finbar McBride, a quiet, withdrawn, unmarried man with achondroplastic dwarfism, has a deep love of railroads. He works in a Hoboken model train hobby shop owned by his elderly and similarly taciturn friend Henry Styles. Because he feels ostracized by a public that tends to view him as peculiar due to his size, Fin keeps to himself.

When Henry dies unexpectedly, Fin is told that the hobby shop is to be closed. However, he also learns that Henry's will left him a piece of rural property with an abandoned train depot on it. He moves in to the old building hoping for a life of solitude, but he quickly finds himself reluctantly becoming enmeshed in the lives of his neighbors. Joe Oramas, a Cuban American, is operating his father's roadside snack truck while the elder man recovers from an illness, and Olivia Harris is an artist trying to cope with the sudden death of her young son two years earlier and the ramifications it has had on her marriage to David, from whom she is separated. Cleo is a young African American girl who shares Fin's interest in trains and finally convinces him to lecture her class about them. Emily is the local librarian, a young woman dismayed to discover she is pregnant by her ne'er-do-well boyfriend.

Joe, relentlessly upbeat and overly talkative, soon cracks through Fin's reserve. The two begin to take daily walks along the tracks, and when Olivia gives Fin a movie camera to film the passing trains, Joe pursues them in his truck while Fin photographs them. Joe and Fin sleep over at Olivia's house after watching this footage and the next morning a flustered, unannounced David is greeted by the two of them. The three forge a tentative friendship that is threatened when Olivia descends into a deep depression, disappearing from the town. Meanwhile, Emily seeks solace in Fin, who slowly is realizing interaction with other humans may not be as unpleasant as he thought. Fin tries to protect Emily from her boyfriend at a bar, but he pushes Fin aside, causing Fin to lapse back into his antisocial behavior. Emily later comes to apologize and spends the night with Fin. Cleo asks Fin if Olivia is coming back, to which he replies that he doesn't know. He decides to keep an eye on Olivia's house, but when he spots her fighting on the phone with David and he goes up on the porch, Olivia angrily tells him to leave. Fin spends the night drinking and, collapsing on the track, is passed over by a train, undamaged but for his pocket watch. As if feeling blessed by his gift of life (and symbolically upon his watch getting destroyed in the train mishap), Fin walks up to Olivia's home only to find she has attempted suicide. Olivia reveals that David is having another baby with a different woman. Fin takes care of Olivia's home while she recuperates in the hospital. Fin picks up the courage to talk to school kids about trains. The last scene has Olivia, Joe, and Fin sharing a meal at Olivia's house, closing the movie with their small talk and reconciliation.


According to screenwriter/director Thomas McCarthy's commentary on the DVD release of the film, it was shot on a shoestring budget in a limited amount of time. Locations used included Lake Hopatcong, Dover, Hibernia, Rockaway Township, Hoboken, Newfoundland and Oak Ridge in New Jersey and Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The abandoned train station is located in Newfoundland on the active New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and the San Sebastián Film Festival before going into limited release in the US on October 3, 2003. Playing on three screens, it grossed $57,785 on its opening weekend. The film eventually earned $8,679,814, of which $5,739,376 was from the USA.


Critical reception

The film received very positive responses from critics. Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times observed, "Tom McCarthy has such an appreciation for quiet that it occupies the same space as a character in this film, a delicate, thoughtful and often hilarious take on loneliness . . . it's the kind of appetizing movie you want to share with others."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "[T]his is a comedy, but it's also sad, and finally it's simply a story about trying to figure out what you love to do and then trying to figure out how to do it . . . It is a great relief . . . that The Station Agent is not one of those movies in which the problem is that the characters have not slept with each other and the solution is that they do. It's more about the enormous unrealized fears and angers that throb beneath the surfaces of their lives."

Ruthe Stein of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "as touching and original a movie as you're likely to see this year" and "a remarkably assured first film."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, "Tom McCarthy has a gift for funny and touching nuances . . . The three actors could not be better. Huge feelings are packed into this small, fragile movie. It's something special."

James Christopher of The Times stated, "The brilliance of Peter Dinklage's performance as the ironclad loner is that he doesn't much care. Yet there's something deeply affecting about his stoicism and suspicion that has nothing to do with artificial sweeteners, Disney sentiment, or party political broadcasts on behalf of dwarfs. Dinklage just gets on with his performance like an actor who can't understand why he's got the lead role. It's this tension between the film and the unwilling Romeo that makes The Station Agent such a hypnotic watch."

The film has a critic rating of 95% and an audience rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Awards and nominations

  • BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay (winner)
  • Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Performer (Peter Dinklage, nominee)
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Cast (winner)
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actor (Bobby Cannavale, winner)
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Actor (Peter Dinklage, nominee)
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Film (nominee)
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Original Screenplay (nominee)
  • Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay (winner)
  • Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award (winner)
  • Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Male (Peter Dinklage, nominee)
  • Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Screenplay (winner)
  • National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • Satellite Award for Best Original Screenplay (nominee)
  • Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (nominee)
  • Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role (Peter Dinklage, nominee)
  • Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role (Patricia Clarkson, nominee)
  • Sundance Film Festival Audience Award (Dramatic) (winner)
  • Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize (Patricia Clarkson, winner)
  • Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award (winner)
  • Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay (nominee)

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