Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Station Agent

You may know Peter Dinklage from the popular HBO series ‘Games of Thrones’, where he plays a general or something, or from the comedy film ‘Death at a Funeral’, both the British version with the white star cast, or the American version with the black cast. He does stand out, because, in an industry obsessed with beauty, where women must wear high heels to look taller than they actually are, he’s a dwarf. And, what makes Dicklage unique is that he refuses to be typecast as a dwarf. He doesn’t want to be one of the merry bands of Snow White; he wants to assert his individuality; this reflects in his choice of roles. After all these years, his struggle seemed to have finally paid off. This year, he won the Golden Globe award for best supporting actor in a miniseries, beating actors of stature like Guy Pierce, for his role in ‘Games of Thrones’ and this is not a mean feat.

The journey of Dinklage as an actor of tremendous potential started with Tom Mccarthy’s ‘The Station Agent’, a slow, understated relationship drama. In his first breakout role, he plays a train-obsessed dwarf (a young girl, Cleo, asks him if he’s a midget. No, he says, a dwarf.) at war with his surrounding after years of taunts and ridicules (he goes to a pub, and as the other patrons continue to stare at him and pass comments, he stands up, in an act of anger and resignation and says, “Here I am. Take a look.”), and how he grudgingly accepts the people around him, as they begin to accept him as he is.

Though Dinklage the dwarf remains the centre of the film, it however is not about his physical peculiarities, and how society treats those who are different. It’s there, but first and foremost, ‘The Station Agent’ tells a human story of three individuals – a dwarf, a son of a Italian immigrant, and a divorced woman mourning for her dead son – outside the bounds of the mainstream, and how they find each other.

Finbar McBride works in a shop selling toy trains and train models. He leads a solitary life, his only friend seems to be the owner of the shop, as he takes the public reaction to his size on his stride (as he walks on the road, someone screams at him, hey, where’s Snow White). One day, the owner drops dead, literally, Fin inherits a piece of land with a station depot in Newfoundland, New Jersey, a godforsaken country. But, Fin is happy to move out, less the people the better.

Here he meets Joe, an American Italian, who sells hot dogs and coffee from his father’s wheeler. He is also lonely, in a different way, of course, and he almost imposes himself upon Fin, and soon, Fin warms up to his innocent charm. He is played by Bobby Cannavale, who was one of Will’s lovers in Season 7 of ‘Will & Grace’. And, there’s Olivia (the ever-wonderful Patricia Clarkson), as an artist, recently divorced and mourning for her dead son.

As their worlds collide, they learn to hold to each other, there are no other options. But, acceptance doesn’t come easily. To welcome a different person in your, life it not only requires that you let go to your prejudices, but be aware of your own limitations.

There’s also an African-American girl, Cleo, who befriends Fin, and a librarian (Michelle Williams), who finds in Fin perhaps the only person she can be who she really is.

‘The Station Agent’ doesn’t have much of a plot. It unfolds slowly, gradually, by and by, as we follow Fin in his daily routine, and Dinklage’s central performance is a compelling watch. He not only further the case for dwarfs, but also for loneliness, and the need for acceptance and the need for human connect.

Writes Roger Ebert: "There was a documentary on cable the other night about little people, describing their lives in their own words, and its subtext seemed to be: Yes, I'm short. Get over it. I remember my face burning with shame early one morning when I was 6 years old and went with my father to where the circus was setting up. I gawked through a flap in the dining tent at the circus giant, and he scowled and said, "Can't you find anything else to stare at?" and I learned something that I never had to be taught again.

"The Station Agent" makes it clear that too many people make it all the way to adulthood without manners enough to look at a little person without making a comment. It isn't necessarily a rude comment -- it's that any comment at all is rude. In a way, the whole movie builds up to a scene in a bar. A scene that makes it clear why Finbar does not enjoy going to bars. The bar contains a fair number of people so witless and cruel that they must point and laugh, as if Finbar has somehow chosen his height in order to invite their moronic behavior. Finally he climbs up on a table and shouts, "Here I am! Take a look!" And that is the moment you realize there is no good reason why Peter Dinklage could not play Braveheart..."
The Complete Review Here.

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