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The Bottom Shelf #125

09.13.2007

I would break my rules for Peter Dinklage. I've got this thing against guys under 5'8". You know how some people are afraid of clowns? Yeah, well I get wonky around short guys. But Dinklage is the exception. These are just two examples of the movies that he's been in which defy the stereotypical roles that are given to Dwarfs. You really can't go wrong watching his entire catalog, if only for his performance. Make him your exception too.

THE STATION AGENT (2003)
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson

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Sometimes movies of this caliber, the kind which try so hard to be independent that they end up being caricatures of what the "indie" movie stands for, choose actors who are unconventional to the point of being ridiculous in the role. They want so badly to have people take notice that this is someone different that they don't seem to care if the person can act or is suited for the role, just that they're enough of a circus attraction. For this reason, I would normally steer clear of a movie like THE STATION AGENT, which focuses on a man afflicted with Dwarfism, because normally a stereotypical indie filmmaker wouldn't have taken such care in selecting the right little person for the role and simply chosen the first little person who was available. This is far from the case here. Peter Dinklage is a little person, but first and foremost he is an outstanding actor.

Working in a model train shop, creating and fixing some of the miniatures that people collect, Dinklage plays the quiet and reserved Finbar as a boring man who happens to attract everyone's eye based solely on his size. He represents most of what America is like, full of people with simple needs and wants, plugging away through life with little desire to rock the boat, if they ever bother to even get in one. When his friend and owner of the shop dies, Finbar inherits an old train depot in Newfoundland and decides to take up residence in it. In a place where he should have been able to be alone with no interruptions in his simple life, he encounters an extroverted and lonely hot dog stand worker and is nearly run over by a distraught woman who he later discovers is suffering from a deep depression due to the death of her young son.

Much like the character of Fin, there isn't anything expressly jazzy about the movie. This is a quiet ensemble movie where we learn to like the characters involved because they can't help being who they are. Bobby Cannavale, best known for his work in many popular television shows including "Ally McBeal," "Oz," "Six Feet Under," and "Will & Grace," is tragically endearing as Joe, the son of the hot dog stand owner who is bored senseless filling in while his father is recovering from an illness. While you know that you would have strangled the guy if you were stuck with him constantly pounding down your door, you also can feel for his loneliness and isolation. Clarkson is so wonderfully believable as always that it's a moot point for me to bring it up. Yet it is Dinklage who makes this movie precisely what it needed to be. He makes the viewer both understand the aggravation that comes with having the world constantly staring at you and whispering behind your back, as well as makes you forget that there's something "different" about him to begin with. In the end, he's a little person but more importantly he's just another man with simple needs and communication issues.

Favorite Scene:

When Fin and Joe are in the hot dog truck, chasing down the train.

Favorite Line:

"I haven't said anything in like twenty minutes."
"Nine."
"You timed me?"
"Mmmhmm."
"That's cold, bro."

Trivia Tidbit:

The movie was shot entirely in 20 days. Directer/writer McCarthy also wrote the three main roles expressly for the actors who played them.

See if you liked:

LOST IN TRANSLATION, WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME

SAFE MEN (1998)
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn
Directed by: John Hamburg

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I love when a movie has a lot of actors in it that I recognize. I also love that I tend to give more recognition to those actors who aren't featured in multiple issues of some newsstand rag, detailing every inch of their private life. To me, a movie like SAFE MEN is far more enjoyable than OCEANS 13, where there are a lot of recognizable names but none of the heart. Instead, we get Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Paul Giamatti, Peter Dinklage, Michael Showalter, Mark Ruffalo and the incomparable Harvey Fierstein. That's a fun afternoon in my book. Guys that can actually act in a movie that's actually funny. Count me in.

SAFE MEN follows the mistaken identity plot line, having Rockwell and Zahn get mistaken by Giamatti for being two of the best safe crackers in the Providence area. Threatened with death by a Jewish mafioso, the bumbling pair attempt unsuccessfully multiple times to crack into various safes around town. In the meantime, the two men who are the better thieves (including Ruffalo with one of my favorite movie mustaches EVER) continue their successful reign all while Ruffalo pines over his ex-girlfriend who takes up with Rockwell. Throw in a Bar-mitzvah, a hilarious scene explaining how you can be a murderer if you sell pants made from flammable material and a party host who's played by an actor with the credit of "Mr. Blue," and you've got a unique spin on old shtick.

The best stuff really comes from Giamatti, cast as the doting "cabana boy" to Michael Lerner's Big Fat Bernie. No one seems to know what his real name is, so he's given the bizarre and unexplained nickname of "Veal Chop." (Although you do eventually get to find out what his real name is.) He takes Lerner's abuse and acts as a surrogate mother figure to Bernie Junior and tries to maintain his killer reputation with the thieves. The other great performer here is Ruffalo as the love-sick safe cracker who just can't let his former girlfriend go, showing up at her house with a boombox ala Lloyd Dobbler with funnier results. I also don't discount the very brief appearance of Peter Dinklage, one of the best character actors of late, in a role where it might have been created for a sight gag and yet Dinklage steps up in the few minutes that he's onscreen and gets you to forget how short (har har) his alloted time is. This is a movie brimming with great performances, funny lines and a meandering directional style that has the major drawback of leaving you wanting much more.

Favorite Scene:

When Giamatti is going over the songs needed to be sung for the Bar-mitzvah while playing a video game with the junior Jewish Mafia lord.

Favorite Line:

"Sweet 'stache."
"Thanks, bro."

Trivia Tidbit:

Director Hamburg is also one of the screenwriters on both ZOOLANDER and MEET THE FOCKERS.

See if you liked:

ALONG CAME POLLY, BOTTLE ROCKET, THE BIG LEBOWSKI

From playing a French Marxist in TIPTOES to taunting the faux French chick in HUMAN NATURE to one day possibly French kissing me, Dinklage is tre magnifique.

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