Peter Dinklage is one lucky little guy. The star of The Station Agent is probably the only dwarf or midget actor who's ever gotten to play a serious leading role, Mini-Me notwithstanding. Not only does Dinklage get to star in a sweet and unassuming character study, he does a damn fine job of it. If he weren't 4-foot-6, this would probably be a star-making turn and lead to a prominent role in a studio-backed romantic comedy. Dinklage's next role? A supporting part in Elf.
Dinklage's moment in the sun is as Fin McBride, a solitary man who inherits a parcel of land in rural New Jersey and heads there to live in peace and quiet. Quiet, that is, except for the trains that roar by every night, since Fin's inheritance is an abandoned train station-house and its environs. As a lifelong rail aficionado, Fin is happy living in the small house, studying abandoned train cars, and reading up on railroad history. His solitude is broken, though, by curious neighbors, including a loud Cuban named Joe (Bobby Cannavale) who runs a nearby hot-dog stand, a troubled artist named Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) who's hiding out from her estranged husband, and a curious little girl who shares Fin's love of trains.
It's not hard to predict that Fin will eventually come out of his shell thanks to Joe's gabbing and a growing attraction to Olivia, but writer-director Tom McCarthy plays out the story with a casual charm, which makes it all easy to believe. Dinklage is great as a man so used to being ostracized that he's chosen loneliness over the risk of being hurt. Both Clarkson and Cannavale give warm and charming performances as people who see past Fin's height deficiency and view him simply as a man. Even Dawson's Creek's Michelle Williams is winning as a confused librarian who has the hots for Finn.
The best thing about McCarthy's film is that it treats Finn as a real person without ignoring his diminutive stature. There's a nice balance between the pain of being different and simple human loneliness in Dinklage's performance that makes Fin an easy character to identify with, no matter what your height. McCarthy also refuses to take several easy ways out, even as his film meanders on a somewhat familiar course. It's a small film about a small man, but it makes a big impression.