Fin (Peter Dinklage) pretty much keeps himself to himself. His only real friend is his boss, Henry (Paul Benjamin), who he works for in a model railway shop as trains are Fin's real passion in life. He works in the back, repairing customers' toy locomotives, but one day he hears a loud thump from out front and goes to investigate. Sadly, the elderly Henry has collapsed and died but has left Fin a fairly large inheritance, only the shop is to be sold leaving him unsure of where to go next. As he has never really gotten along with people due to they way they treat him because of his barely over four feet tall frame, he decides to live simply in property Henry has left him, a disused station agent's shed. At least now he can have some peace and quiet to watch the trains go by...
The Station Agent was an example of the way that it doesn't matter how low your budget is, if you have a decent script then you'll succeed in creating something worthwhile. This film is almost as austere as its protagonist's surroundings by a New Jersey railway line, but gradually a belief in the warmth of the human spirit makes its presence felt. That script was written by the director, Tom McCarthy, an actor trying his hand at the other side of the camera. It may seem a little naive that someone like Fin, who makes no attempt to make friends with anyone he meets, should end up with a collection of strong relationships, but that is all part of the charm.
In Dinklage's capable hands, Fin is a deeply reserved soul whose character is brought out in subtle gestures, the polite but terse delivery and the just about patient tolerance in his facial expressions. When Fin reaches his new home, it's undeniably rundown but habitable, and he prepares to settle into the life of a hermit. Talking of being rundown, when he's out walking (he does a lot of walking) he is nearly bumped into by a car driven by local artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) - not once, but twice. Fin is annoyed but happy to let it pass, yet Olivia is mortified and turns up at his door later that evening with a bottle as a peace offering. She isn't the only one who wants to get to know our hero, as the nearby snack van is helmed by Joe (Bobby Cannavale), who sees a possible friend in Fin, or at least someone to talk nonstop to whether he's interested or not.
By and by, this trio become pals and gradually they adapt to Fin's pace of life and indulge him in his interest in trains. They might not admit it, but they're three lonely people who have problems: Fin doesn't feel accepted anywhere because of his height (we see him being jeered at frequently by unsympathetic individuals), Joe is constantly worried about the health of his ailing father and most tragically, Olivia is still having trouble coping after the death of her son. One of the most amusing aspects to The Station Agent is that once Fin makes up his mind to be alone, he draws all sorts, not just Olivia and Joe but also Cleo (Raven Goodwin) a little girl who shares his trains hobby and local librarian Emily (Michelle Williams) who is attracted to him despite her boneheaded boyfriend. It's in the gentle moments of comedy that the film is at its best, as when the histrionics start McCarthy does strain too hard for emotion, especially considering it's most affecting at its quietest. Music by Stephen Trask.