NOW PLAYING: The Station Agent/Hanover Street

Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Here we are again, and yet again you're reading a review, not of the current big hitter at the box office, but of a smaller, though likely better film. I am still in Japan, hopefully enjoying myself, having successfully avoided the pitfalls of poisonous puffer fish souffle and the ever-present organ thieves. You, on the other hand are sitting at home, trying to decide if you really want to see Will Smith battle yet another round of villainous futuristic baddies. While I can't really give you an opinion on I, Robot, I can suggest this. Why not stay home and try a quiet, yet beautiful film about the power of friendship when the world seems at its worst.

Finbar McBride is a, well, little person. I use italics because we never know how or what to say about those people. Dwarf? Midget? What would Fin call himself? A train enthusiast. He works at a model train store and socializes with other train lovers in a rundown part of Hoboken, New Jersey. When Fin's friend, and owner of the store dies suddenly, our hero is set adrift. The will reveals that Fin is the new owner of an acre of land in rural New Jersey - land that just happens to contain an actual old train depot. Fin, typically a loner, makes the depot his new home, and in doing so is introduced to an eccentric and endearing cast of characters, most important of which are Joe, a lonely coffee vendor and Olivia, a recently bereaved woman going through a divorce.

I realize the above set-up doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, but The Station Agent really is a comedy, though more in line with The Royal Tennenbaums than Eurotrip. It's a quiet film whose humor is as wrapped up and hidden as the personalities of the characters; Fin's and Olivia's bubbling below the surface, and Joe's spilling out all over. This is a sweet, remarkable movie with great acting and funny understated writing. Peter Dinklage, Fin, is a superb actor, both playing to the stereotype and far, far beyond it. He is a regular guy - nothing special, a state that his attention grabbing appearance belies. The Station Agent goes farther, I believe, toward deconstructing a stereotype without making it the focus of the story, than any movie I've seen in a long time. Grade: A

Another film I watched recently was an old Harrison Ford flick I'd never seen called Hanover Street. Released in 1979, Hanover benefits greatly from an immediately post-Star Wars Ford and beautiful cinematography as it tells the story of an American bomber pilot in WWII, and the married woman he falls in love with.

As far as most war movies go, Hanover Street seems strangely lacking. There is very little in the way of battle scenery, and more than enough in the way of dreamy love sequences. However, where this film has it over others in it's genre is in the simple yet brilliant story and in it's beautifully dramatic cinematography. Ford plays David Halloran, a hotshot American pilot who fears nothing. Lesley Anne-Down plays Margaret Sellinger, beautiful English nurse and wife of one of the heads of British intelligence. In a typically short (for Hollywood) period of time, Halloran and Maggie fall madly in love, causing both to rethink the lives they've chosen. When David is chosen for a secret mission involving British spies, it seems as though Maggie's whole world is falling apart.

Though I didn't really buy the romance, the footage of the bombers is great, as is the interplay of dialogue between the men tasked to risk their lives over Germany time and again. Ford looks and feels very young, but every now and then that old Han Solo charm shines through revealing the superstar to come. Well cast is Christopher Plummer as the spy, Paul Sellinger, Maggie's beleaguered husband, who makes us remember that true love is not always heroic, dashing, or dramatic.

Hanover Street may be a little difficult to find - only one video store out of five that we contacted had ever even heard of it - but it's worth it for an interesting glimpse of war seen through a different kind of lens, one focused on survival for love, rather than sacrifice. That, and after Hollywood Homicide it's nice to watch Harrison Ford make at least a half-way decent movie. Grade: B-

The Station Agent is rated R for language, and Hanover Street is rated PG for brief nudity and violence.

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