Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Written by:Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Williams, Raven Goodwin
Released: February 5, 2004
Grade: A-

The Sundance Film Festival is the showcase of independent cinema in America.  If I listed some of the recent award winners from this festival you would probably tune out with a blank look on your face.  Budding filmmakers churn out their small films on shoe-string budgets in the hope of success.  Executives and scouts from the big-name studios attend the festival each year and will buy those films they think show promise to release as their own.  This isn’t some noble gesture by Hollywood to reward independent cinema.  The studios are interested largely in profit and pick up cheap Sundance “bargains” to reap a few million dollars in cinemas across the country.  The most famous example would have to be The Blair Witch Project which Artisan Entertainment purchased at the 1999 festival and then beautifully marketed to a total U.S. gross of over $140m.

Sundance is held every January and the 2004 has just been and gone.  Critics from the States have already detailed in their columns those films they think have a chance at making it to cinemas.  It’s not usually a long list.  There are a lot of great films but great isn’t usually good enough.  Only a handful of Sundance films each year will find financial success.

At the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, the critics honoured as their top choices – Capturing The Friedmans and American Splendor.  The later screened in Australia last September (and if you didn’t see it then you really did miss out).  Capturing The Friedmans will open here in the coming months.  But critics aren’t always right so there’s also an Audience Award judged by each member of the general public who attends a film at the Festival.  Last year their winners were… Whale Rider (the New Zealand film loved by most everyone who has seen it) and… The Station Agent.

It’s a simple, elegant story about three people needing friendship but who aren’t necessarily looking for it.  Finbar McBride (Dinklage) is a 4’6” dwarf who has inherited a deserted train station in a small desolate New Jersey town.  Finn has always been fascinated by trains and moves there to escape the bigger city.  He likes to keep to himself and you sense he is sick of people staring and laughing at him in the street.

On his first day at his new home he meets two people who he will soon get to know.  Joe Oramas (Cannavale) operates a small hotdog and coffee van.  He is running the business for his father who is ill.  Olivia Harris (Clarkson) lives alone in town and is still coming to grips with the separation from her husband and the death of her only son.

I was touched in places by Thomas McCarthy’s screenplay and I can see why the film has found such high appeal from audiences.  At the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards in America, their acting peers have considered Dinklage and Clarkson worthy of nominations and yes, they do deserve them.  Dinklage is great in a softly spoken role but Clarkson almost steals the show with her trouble character.  As a footnote, the entire cast has been nominated for best ensemble at the Guild Awards alongside In America, The Return Of The King, Mystic River and Seabiscuit.  That means something.