Train enthusiast Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a simple guy just trying to get on with living his simple life. This would probably be fairly easy, were it not for the fact that everyone he encounters finds it necessary to draw attention to the fact that he is different from them: Fin is a dwarf.
Things change in a big way for Fin when the owner of the model train shop where he works suddenly dies and the shop is closed down. Not only does Fin find himself out of a job, he also finds himself the new owner of a rundown and disused railway depot - bequeathed to him by his recently departed boss - which he promptly moves into and sets up home.
Any hopes of his new surroundings bringing him some solitude are dashed quite quickly when overly-enthusiastic Cuban hotdog vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and scatty middle-aged artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) insist on becoming part of his new life. As it slowly becomes apparent that his two newest friends are more than willing to accept him for who he is, not least of all because they are wrapped up enough in their own problems, Fin finds himself reluctantly drawn into their lives.
The Station Agent is a truly exceptional film that doesn't try too hard to make you like it whilst making it virtually impossible not to. Yes, it is about a dwarf, and yes, it is unique to see a dwarf playing a lead character in a film, let alone any role at all in a film that isn't fantasy, but this is not in any way rammed down the audience's collective throat, leaving the viewer to deal with what is being presented to them in their own way.
Clarkson is fantastic (as ever) as the confused and melancholy Olivia, and Cannavale is a revelation as the irritating but well-meaning Joe. Inevitably though, the film is stolen by the four foot five inch lead actor. Dinklage's performance as the world-weary Fin is outstanding; his wonderfully expressive features telling you everything you need to know about the at times moronic individuals he encounters on his quest just to be left alone, and his on-screen presence dwarfs (yes, pun intended) that of many a so-called Hollywood star who receive offers of lead roles all too easily.
It has been said by some that it is sad to think that such a fine actor as Dinklage should inevitably be destined to play novelty parts from here on in, and to a certain extent this is likely to be the case. However, though him appearing opposite Meg Ryan in next year's big rom-com is far from likely, it is films such as The Station Agent - showcasing what actors such as Dinklage can actually do besides being short - that help to change audience attitudes and in turn break down barriers, in much the same way that it slowly became more and more acceptable many years ago for black actors to be offered lead roles in films.
Anyway, that's another conversation, and one that you won't see cropping up in this film. The Station Agent is a hilarious, touching and warm film that is handled brilliantly by first time director Tom McCarthy - who also wrote the script, for which he won a Best Original Screenplay BAFTA - that works extremely well on every single level and leaves you feeling as though you have just experienced something very special indeed. Perfect.
:: Philip Goodfellow