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The Station Agent DVD Review (2012 Echo Bridge Edition)

The Station Agent (2003) movie poster The Station Agent

Theatrical Release: October 3, 2003 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Writer/Director: Tom McCarthy

Cast: Peter Dinklage (Finbar McBride), Patricia Clarkson (Olivia Harris), Bobby Cannavale (Joe Oramas), Raven Goodwin (Cleo), Paul Benjamin (Henry Styles), Michelle Williams (Emily), Jayce Bartok (Chris), Joe Lo Truglio (Danny), Richard Kind (Louis Tiboni), Josh Pais (Carl), John Slattery (David), Lynn Cohen (Patty at the Good to Go), Ileen Getz (Mrs. Kahn), Jeremy Bergman (Jacob)

Buy Wide Awake from Amazon.com: New Echo Bridge DVD • Out-of-Print Buena Vista DVD

With 2003's The Station Agent, Tom McCarthy transitioned from a moderately-employed actor (his most familiar role may still be playing the groom -- "Call me Bob... M.D." -- in Meet the Parents) into an immediately respected writer/director. McCarthy has continued to work in front of the camera, showing up in a number of George Clooney movies, the disaster flick 2012, Little Fockers, and a recurring role on "The Wire", but it his work behind it that has garnered the most attention.

McCarthy has followed his highly acclaimed debut with two more praised dramedies as writer/director, 2008's The Visitor (which surprised some when it earned long-underappreciated Richard Jenkins a Best Actor Oscar nomination) and last year's universally approved Win Win.
In between those, McCarthy picked up an original screenplay Oscar nomination for his story work on Pixar's Up. It's early still, but with each new credit, McCarthy confirms himself as the kind of filmmaker who will take his time, write from the heart, and do no wrong. Working small may keep him anonymous with the general public, but the industry has surely taken notice and will continue to do so.

The Station Agent opens in a city we're later told is Hoboken, New Jersey. There, two longtime friends work together in a quaint model train shop. Their passion for trains extends to the only apparent social circle in their lives, a gathering of train buffs who nerdily narrate their train chasing home movies. The older man (Paul Benjamin) dies suddenly. His will calls for his shop to close. It also leaves a little abandoned train depot in rural Newfoundland, NJ to his friend, Fin (Peter Dinklage).

Fin is a dwarf and a highly reserved one at that. He worked behind-the-scenes at the model train shop and it's easy to understand his antisocial ways from the reactions and snickers he receives in public purely because of his stature. Fin settles into the rundown train depot, expecting to live in solitude and quiet. But he soon meets a neighbor in Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale), a talkative man vending the nearby hot dog and coffee truck of his sick father. Lonely Joe is stoked to make a friend, but Fin remains politely standoffish. A third party, Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a separated artist pained by the recent death of her young son, interacts with them both, forming a perfectly eclectic circle of three friends.

Antisocial dwarf Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) gets his first look at the rundown Newfoundland, NJ train depot he'll henceforth be calling home. Chatty café con lecha truck vendor Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale) is excited to have a new neighbor and possible friend.

This is a tremendously appealing film. Though it looks effortlessly so, McCarthy has imbued the script and the frame with tons of heart and flavor. He establishes three indelible characters so quickly and skillfully that all of sudden, the mere sight of them lined up and taking "the right of way" (i.e. walking on unused stretches of train tracks) is downright magical. The exchanges between world-weary Fin and boyish Joe are hilarious, their personalities at such odds but their manners making friendship inevitable. Olivia falls somewhere in between them on the personality scale, a kindred spirit in loneliness who comes to them with more baggage and airs of torment, tragedy, and disorganization.

Having these three very different individuals enter each other's life is extraordinarily compelling. Typical for McCarthy, the tone is realistic and understated. At the same time, the setting and story are like something out of a children's picture book, each character with their distinctive wardrobe and vocabulary. That contrast renders the movie fascinating, even when it's doing nothing more than following Fin around on a solo walk with interesting Stephen Trask score or on an adventure to borrow a book from his new local library. Spending time with these three is an enjoyable and rewarding exercise in humanity, full of poignant, relatable emotion and a hopeful outlook on life.

Like most independent comedies, this one delivers substance, finding meaning in everything from tortured art to public humiliation. The fraction of the population who live with dwarfism might appreciate the rare depiction of an upstanding one of their kind. And even if they scoff at the notion of true friendship and serious romantic interest materializing around a wildly antisocial dwarf, the empathy it shows the condition and society's discomfort to it is touching, sincere, and believable.

Scatterbrained artist Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson) accidentally runs Fin off the road twice on the same day. Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and Fin (Peter Dinklage) try their hands at train chasing with a new camera and Joe's truck.

What a cool added bonus for the film to have launched a major acting career for Peter Dinklage, who the very same year appeared briefly in one of the many hilarious parts of Elf, playing... a jaded children's book author (not what you would have guessed, huh?).
Dinklage, who already had eight years of movies under his belt, has managed to sustain prominence and not merely with roles in effects-laden fantasies but a variety of films and, more recently, HBO's "Game of Thrones." His lead performance is central to The Station Agent's success.

Cannavale deserves special credit too. With the exception of his reteaming with McCarthy on Win Win, the actor's voluminous recent filmography of thankless supporting and recurring roles in comedies and TV dramas wouldn't lead you to expect such a strong, endearing characterization this long ago. Clarkson plays the kind of independent role that came to be expected of her, from which she is now successfully branching out. The film also includes nice supporting performances from the brief but resonant Benjamin, current awards darling Michelle Williams (as the friendly local librarian), and Richard Kind as an estate executor.

The Station Agent won three awards at Sundance, made good on three of four Independent Spirit Award nominations, and was recognized by dozens of other parties. It was snubbed by the Academy, though, most surprisingly in the original screenplay category, which picked three European dramas to join the crowd-pleasing Finding Nemo and winner Lost in Translation.

The Station Agent returns to DVD this week, seven and a half years after its home video debut, not for any Special Edition but for a new, low-priced printing by Miramax library acquirer Echo Bridge Home Entertainment.

The Station Agent (Echo Bridge Home Entertainment edition) DVD cover art -- click for larger view and to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $6.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Black Keepcase
Previously released on DVD by Buena Vista Home Entertainment on June 15, 2004

VIDEO and AUDIO

2003 doesn't seem that long ago to me, but The Station Agent looks its age and then some in Echo Bridge's unremarkable 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD presentation. The picture is soft and its colors are a bit dulled. The element is pretty clean and most will find the results more than watchable. But Echo Bridge discs seem to hit a ceiling in the picture and sound department that is a bit lower than that of bigger studios. I'm skeptical that the original DVD doesn't look as good as, if not better than, this one.

The disc is even more lacking in the sound department. Echo Bridge authors it in plain two-channel stereo, even though it was originally mixed and exhibited in 5.1 channel surround. Dialogue can be quite muffled at times and though you can activate a subtitles stream, don't expect to find anything in it. The studio also drops the English closed captions, French and Spanish subtitles, and French dub that were offered on the original DVD. How unfortunate.

The lack of chapter titles and images is less troubling... ...than the DVD main menu's complete absence of a special features listing.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

The disappointments don't end there. Echo Bridge's new DVD arrives with nary a bonus feature. The deleted scenes and audio commentary (by McCarthy, Dinklage, Cannavale, and Clarkson) from the original DVD are nowhere to be found here. Including them would have probably required little more than dragging and dropping files, but no DVD extras appears to be a deliberate choice in Echo Bridge's budget strategy.

The one saving grace is that the studio appears to restore the DVD bonus features -- as is, in standard definition -- on Blu-ray. The Station Agent is a popular enough indie to expect a BD release sometime soon and hopefully a much better looking and sounding one. Still, it's really too bad that the studio opts to strip down catalog titles to the bare essentials, making the low-priced in-print DVD inferior to the one released sometimes as many as ten or more years ago.

The minimal effort extends to the packaging and the two silent, static menus adapted from them.

Fin (Peter Dinklage), Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), and Joe (Bobby Cannavale) are the three best friends that anybody could have.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Tom McCarthy's writing and directing debut, The Station Agent, is a great movie, worth seeing and revisiting from time to time. Unfortunately,
though attractively low priced at impulse buy level, the film's new DVD seems to pale to its old one, whose Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and bonus features are dropped. You can currently get a used copy of Buena Vista's discontinued DVD for not too much more than this new disc, but if yours is a Blu-ray household, you may wish to wait and see if Echo Bridge doesn't take too long to release this acclaimed film in high-definition with the bonus features it is meant to have. The disappointments of this disc are enough to cancel out my strong recommendation of the film and encourage you to either look back for the original DVD or hang on for the inevitable Blu-ray.

Buy The Station Agent from Amazon.com: New Echo Bridge DVD / Out-of-Print Buena Vista DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Tom McCarthy: Win Win | Story by Tom McCarthy: Up
New: Runaway Daughters • Midnight in Paris • Wide Awake • Moneyball • I Don't Know How She Does It • The Guard
Peter Dinklage: Elf (Ultimate Collector's Edition) • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian • Underdog • Death at a Funeral (2010)
Bobby Cannavale: The Other Guys • Paul Blart: Mall Cop • The Night Listener • Shall We Dance? (2004)
Patricia Clarkson: Easy A • Whatever Works • Miracle | Michelle Williams: Blue Valentine • Prozac Nation
The Straight Story • Rushmore • Four Weddings and a Funeral • Welcome to the Rileys • A Serious Man

The Station Agent Songs List (in order of use): Sourcerer - "Aura Lee", Danielle Howle and the Tantrums - "Subclassic", Ed Burleson - "Dream World", Six Going on Seven - "Readying", Alice Stuart - "I Ruined Your Life", Fetish - "Silver Electric", Klear - "Beautiful End"

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Reviewed January 9, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1998 Miramax, SenArt Films, Next Wednesday, and 2012 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.