Directed by Tom McCarthy, starring Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale, Raven Goodwin, Paul Benjamin and Michelle Williams.

The debut of writer/director Tom McCarthy, 'The Station Agent' is a gentle meditation on a friendship between three very disparate individuals - an antisocial dwarf, a lonely chatterbox and a grieving artist. Slow moving but often funny and never boring, McCarthy follows his characters as they deal with loss and desperation, ultimately finding hope and a new happiness in companionship.

Railroad aficionado Finbar McBride (Dinklage) lives above and works in a model train shop owned by his boss and only friend, Henry Styles (Benjamin). Fin prefers to isolate himself from the world because of other people's reactions to his dwarfism, but his life falls apart when Henry dies unexpectedly and the shop is sold. With few possessions, apart from a derelict train depot in Newfoundland, New Jersey that he has just inherited, Fin packs up and walks the train line until he gets to his new, barely habitable, home.

Like Garbo, he wants to be left alone but it's not long until life comes knocking on his door. Joe (Cannavale), who runs the coffee truck parked outside the depot, keeps up a running conversation with Fin, despite his kickbacks and reticence, even developing an interest in train spotting so he can hang out with him. Eccentric artist and terrible driver Olivia (Clarkson) arrives on the scene after she twice runs Fin off the road in the same day. She is also isolated by choice, still mourning her dead son and her ruined marriage, but somehow - mainly driven by Joe's desperation for company (and his interest in Olivia) - the three start spending time together. Despite his best efforts to remain outside the community, Fin also ends up befriending a solitary little girl called Cleo (Goodwin) and, in one of the film's few rushed subplots, a very pretty librarian (Williams).

These developing relationships and their consequences are delicately handled by Tom McCarthy, who also exhibits a remarkable ability to elicit great performances from his cast. Veteran actor ('Living In Oblivion', 'Elf') Peter Dinklage is touching as the stoic and impassive Fin and he gets great backup from the ever reliable (and normally underused) Patricia Clarkson. Consistently hilarious as Joe, Bobby Cannavale ends up with all the funniest lines and lightens the film whenever it shows signs of getting too heavy.

'The Station Agent' might be a small story but it's got a big, big heart.

Caroline Hennessy