The Station Agent

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The Station Agent
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTom McCarthy
Written byTom McCarthy
Produced byMary Jane Skalski
Robert May
Kathryn Tucker
StarringPeter Dinklage
Patricia Clarkson
Bobby Cannavale
Raven Goodwin
Paul Benjamin
Michelle Williams
CinematographyOliver Bokelberg
Edited byTom McArdle
Music byStephen Trask
SenArt Films
Next Wednesday
Distributed byMiramax Films
Release dates
  • January 2003 (2003-01) (Sundance)[1]
  • October 3, 2003 (2003-10-03)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$8.7 million[2]

The Station Agent is a 2003 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Tom McCarthy in his directorial debut. It stars Peter Dinklage as a man who seeks solitude in an abandoned train station in the Newfoundland section of Jefferson Township, New Jersey. It also stars Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Bobby Cannavale and John Slattery. For his writing achievement, McCarthy won the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award while the film itself also won the John Cassavetes Award.


Finbar McBride, a quiet, unmarried man with dwarfism, is a nihilist who has a deep love of railroads and lives a solitary existence. He works in a Hoboken, New Jersey, 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 has bequeathed him a piece of rural property with an abandoned train depot on it. He moves into 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; Olivia's initial and secondary meetings with Fin almost get him killed when she is distracted while driving her car. Cleo is a young girl who shares Fin's interest in trains and wants 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.

The train station used in the movie

Joe, relentlessly upbeat and overly talkative, soon cracks through Fin's reserve. The two begin to take daily walks along the tracks, and after Olivia gives Fin a movie camera, Joe drives alongside a passing train so that Fin can film it. Joe and Fin sleep at Olivia's house after watching the 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 asocial behaviour. Emily later comes to apologize, and after she and Fin share a kiss, she spends the night with Fin after asking if she can "just sleep" there. 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.

Olivia, Joe, and Fin share a meal at Olivia's house, their conversation filled with some small talk and reconciliation. Olivia and Joe tease Fin about Emily, suggesting he go seek her again.


The Station Agent was shot on 16 mm film in 20 days with a budget of half a million dollars.[3]

According to writer-director Tom 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, Rockaway Borough, Hoboken, Newfoundland and Oak Ridge, New Jersey, as well as Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The Newfoundland station, originally built by the New Jersey Midland Railway in 1872, is located in Newfoundland, New Jersey, 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 in three theaters, it grossed $57,785 on its opening weekend with an average of $19,261 per theater and ranking 55th at the box office. The film's widest release was 198 theaters and it ended up earning $5,739,376 domestically and $2,940,438 internationally for a total of $8,679,814, well above its estimated $500,000 production budget.[2]

The film received a very positive response from critics. It has a rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 160 reviews with an average rating of 8.00/10. The website's critical consensus states, "A sweet and quirky film about a dwarf, a refreshment stand operator, and a reclusive artist connecting with one another."[4] The film also has a score of 81 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 36 reviews.[5]

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."[6]

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."[7]

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."[8]

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."[9]

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."[10]


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


  1. ^ McCarthy, Todd (26 January 2003). "'Splendor' top drama in Park City". Variety. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b "The Station Agent (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  3. ^ "Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent - Filmmaker Magazine - Fall 2003". Retrieved 2022-03-17.
  4. ^ "The Station Agent (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  5. ^ "The Station Agent Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  6. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (3 October 2003). "A Train Depot, More Dream Than Destination". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (17 October 2003). "The Station Agent". Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  8. ^ Stein, Ruthie (17 October 2003). "Troubled souls find one another / 'Station Agent' has unusual story that quietly gets under the skin". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco: Hearst. ISSN 1932-8672. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  9. ^ Travers, Peter (September 25, 2003). "The Station Agent". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 29, 2008.
  10. ^ Christopher, James (March 25, 2004). "The Station Agent". The Times. Archived from the original on June 16, 2011.

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