It's a bird! It's a plane! No,
it's a train! Woo-woooooo! Trains are a theme in this film
by first-time writer/director Thomas McCarthy. And, for his first
effort, this McCarthy's trial should definitely not be blacklisted.
The first group of people who will love this movie are the group of
people that love trains. The Masked Reviewer has known people like
this throughout his life. They can't get enough trains.
Model trains. Train tracks. Cargo trains. Passenger
trains. For some people, trains hold a certain appeal. The
Masked Reviewer never understood why. But, the film does give a
bit of insight into this strange fascination. And, a film that can
help us understand something we never quite understood is doing
But even if you hate trains, there's a lot to love about this film.
It won't be for everyone, because it is in essence a character
study...it's a "slice of life" but it's a slice of life done
exceptionally well. The plot isn't what drives this film, and
that's okay. The trains aren't what drive this film, and that's
even more okay. What drives this film are the people!
Just like a train is driven by the...train...driving...guy. The
There are four main characters in the film, whose lives (aren't
surprisingly) are intertwined. Each of the characters is
brilliantly written and exquisitely portrayed. They each have
their problems, their desires, their point-of-view, and the interaction
and evolution of the characters is what the film is all about.
It's a quiet, thoughtful, thought-provoking film that is a great example
of first-rate filmmaking. However, the Masked Reviewer is keenly
aware that a lot of people don't go to see films for first-rate
filmmaking, they go to see movies for a white-knuckle thrill ride, or a
laugh-out-loud yuckfest (or for a hot and steamy explicit porn fest, but
the Masked Reviewer doesn't review those movies...yet).
The Station Agent is a wonderful film, but not everyone will
think so. There aren't any big special effects. There aren't
any car chases or overly dramatic situations. It's subtle and
lovely, and all about the characters. It asks you to pay attention
and rewards those who are interested. If you like to be grabbed by
the throat by a movie, this film doesn't offer that. While it has
plenty of laughs, don't expect Naked Gun -- the humor is great,
but it's not a comedy.
Peter Dinklage gives an absolutely Oscar(tm)-worthy performance.
He's also currently appearing in Elf, but don't hold that against
him. His portrayal gives us a an understanding of what it must be
like to be in his character's shoes, in a meaningful way. That's
the hallmark of a great performance...an appreciation of the human
Patricia Clarkson (who has been in many things, but the Masked
Reviewer can't pick out one role that you would easily associate her
with) also gives a great performance. So does Bobby Cannavale
(who's done a lot of TV work including "Oz" and "Ally McBeal").
Michelle Williams, though not given as much screen time, also "brings
home the acting bacon". All play well-written, well-acted,
well-defined characters that are all interesting to watch. None
are just "props" in the story to create conflict or motivation for
action. You feel like you know all of them, and it is a testament
to the quality of McCarthy's writing and directing that you care about
all of them and don't want the movie to end.
But, the ultimate tribute to the quality of the film may be the
nature of comments coming from one very loud woman in the row behind the
Masked Reviewer who wouldn't shut the hell up during the film.
You've probably been to a movie with her sitting behind you before (or
at least someone just like her, maybe a guy, maybe a kid). She
thinks she's the only one in the theater. She makes constant
remarks out loud to the screen, that aren't interesting...as if she
never gets to talk to anyone.
"It's a good movie! Oh, she's coming back. I hate phones
too. This is a cute movie! How come they are walking on the
train tracks? What if a train comes by? That's how my dog
got killed. That's a nice house. It looks like it has the
Eventually the comments stopped...sure, it may have taken more than half
of the movie, but if it can get one of those screen-talkers to shut up,
it must be good.
"Oh look, he's drinking a beer! I like beer! It's full of
bubbles. They're pretty. I used to love to blow bubbles as a
kid. They're pretty! I had a dog named Bubbles. He
wasn't my dog who got hit by a train. Why would a dog walk on
train tracks? Can't they tell it's dangerous?"
The only strange thing in the film is that it appears Peter Dinklage
is wearing a yellow shirt at one point, then it turns white, then
yellow, then white. Either it's a continuity problem or some
scenes were lit funkily.
This film is great. If you enjoy film as an art form, as a way
of learning to see the world in new ways and from new perspectives, this
is a must-see. If you like good acting, this is a good one.
It's also very accessible...it's not too cerebral and it doesn't have
the "watch this because it's good for you" quality that some snooty art
films have. It's a funny and thoughtful character study.
If you need action, sex, stunts, and a standard plot-driven
blockbuster to be happy...that's okay, there's nothing wrong with that,
but you won't find that here. If you've never thought of yourself
as a fan of the "art film", this might be an excellent choice to give a
try...it does everything right. Peter Dinklage gives a perfect
Expectation from the Title: When Nielsen Ratings begin to lose
their influence over advertisers, the head of the company (Bill Nielsen)
hires a spy to watch which television stations people tune into.
He watches while you watch, but when he gets caught...hilarity ensues.
Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):
What's not to like about this film?
The Pros: The best ensemble acting in a film this year;
Oscar(tm)-worthy performance by Peter Dinklage; great direction and
simple but meaningful character study.
The Cons: Some people will feel the film ends abruptly.