Dir: Tom McCarthy. 2002. US. 90mins

As often at Sundance, the real winners are to be found among the recipients of the audience award and not the Grand Jury Prize. This year was no exception as newcomer Tom McCarthy's crowd-pleaser, The Station Agent, proved the talk of Park City all week, as well as Miramax signing up for all English-language and Italian rights. Yet despite its clever script and audience appealing qualities, the film will require equally clever distribution. Marketing teams will have a real challenge on their hands selling the small, quiet film to audiences in both domestic and international territories. In addition to the audience award, The Station Agent also won the prize for best screenwriting, while Patricia Clarkson received a special jury prize for her performances in both that film as well as Pieces Of April and All The Real Girls.

Finbar (Dinklage) would be like any other train fan, spending time in the model shop he works in and watching locomotives go by, were it not for his height. Born with dwarfism, he stands 4'5" tall, and despite his attempts to seek solitude, often finds it hard to avoid attention. When his old friend the model shop owner dies and leaves him an old out-of-service train depot in rural New Jersey, Fin heads there in the hope of finding peace.

Despite the yard's run-down and deserted air, Finn quickly and - initially against his will - gets involved with two other loners, Olivia (Clarkson), a 40-year-old artist and Joe (Cannavale), a talkative hot dog guy Joe. The former almost hits him with her car on two occasions, while the latter cannot stop talking and fails to understand Fin's rebuffs. But slowly a friendship starts to grow between the three loners, who each have their own reason to search for isolation, while learning to share it with the others.

The trains come to symbolise the sense of unity between the depot's inhabitants. Soon, everyone confides in Fin, including a young girl (Williams) working at the library who is having problems with her boyfriend. Much to the surprise of Fin - and not least Joe, who is camped just outside the depot - women start to stay overnight with him, with Mccarthy drawing further tender humour from the relationship between Olivia and Fin. There are also sadder realities, such as when a shopkeeper takes pictures of Fin or when a local redneck shoves him aside for trying to help a girl.

But The Station Agent proves less successful when, two-thirds in it tries to shift gear. Up until this point it resembles another Sundance winner, Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me, which it echoes both visually and emotionally. However, it loses any residual sense of realism as the film becomes too nice and over-constructed for its own good.

Still, the performances benefit from McCarthy writing them directly for the three actors involved. While Clarkson has rightly attracted awards attention, Dinklage also provides a standout turn as the loner who, despite his stone-faced attitude cannot help but attract the interest of those around him.

Prod co: SenArt Films, Next Wednesday
Eng-lang & It dist:
Int'l sales:
Cinetic Media
Mary Jane Skalski, Robert May, Kathryn Tucker
Oliver Bokelberg
Tom McArdle
Stephen Task
Peter Dinklage, Bobby Cannavale, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Raven Goodwin, Paul Benjamin