The Films of Tom McCarthy
The Station Agent (October 10/03)
The Station Agent marks the directorial debut of Tom McCarthy, who's known mostly for his acting (he was a regular during the first season of Boston Public). And as tends to be the case with performers-turned-filmmakers, McCarthy's not afraid to let this story unfold slowly - allowing us to get to know the characters beyond the superficial. Peter Dinklage stars as Fin McBride, a man who encounters and befriends two very different individuals (Bobby Cannavale's Joe and Patricia Clarkson's Olivia after moving to a small New Jersey town. The Station Agent is a small and delicate movie that initially seems as though it's going to be a little too slight to make an impact, but the characters eventually become compelling enough to keep us intrigued. The center of the story is Dinklage's Fin, a dwarf who's come to distrust virtually everyone he meets (and with good reason; he's generally met with stares and finger-pointing). McCarthy smartly doesn't let Fin's diminutive stature define him; it's an integral part of his life, sure, but it's not something that he dwells on. Further proof that Dinklage's casting isn't just a gimmick lies in the fact that the man is a brilliant actor. Fin's reluctance to allow anyone into his life is the sort of character trait that might have been a turn-off for the audience, but in the hands of Dinklage, it's more intriguing than anything else. Clarkson and Cannavale must've had their work cut out for them acting opposite someone with such a commanding presence, but they're more than up to the task. Clarkson's become the queen of the indie scene, popping up in a variety of smaller movies and always delivering a memorable performance. That's certainly true here, where, as Olivia, Clarkson does a nice job of playing a character that occasionally wavers between being likable and unlikeable. McCarthy proves to be quite effective in establishing characters that aren't cut-and-dried; aside from a few periphery figures, the movie's been populated with complex individuals. As for Cannavale, he initially seems to be the comic relief of the film - Joe is an outgoing and amiable fellow - but as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that there's more than meets the eye to this man. There aren't many movies with characters as involving as in The Station Agent, and for that alone, it's worth seeking out. It also marks the arrival of a major talent in the form of Dinklage, who deserves more roles like this one (but probably won't receive them).
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Win Win (March 22/11)
From actor-turned-director Tom McCarthy comes this expectedly low-key story of a lawyer (Paul Giamatti's Mike Flaherty) who, through a series of convoluted events, finds himself caring for an introverted teenager (Alex Shaffer's Kyle), with the narrative primarily detailing Mike's attempts at integrating Kyle into the high-school wrestling team that he coaches in his spare time. There's little doubt that Win Win, for the most part, comes off as an almost prototypical McCarthy effort, as the movie has been infused with a subdued atmosphere that emphasizes character development over plot - which effectively ensures that the inhabitants of the film's off-kilter world are as vividly realized and authentically portrayed as one might have expected. The movie's mild success is, as a result, due mostly to the efforts of its various actors, with Giamatti's downright mesmerizing turn as the harried protagonist matched by a quirky supporting cast that includes Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, and Jeffrey Tambor. It's only as Win Win progresses into its increasingly conventional third act that one's interest begins to dwindle, as McCarthy begins to stress elements of a decidedly (and needlessly) melodramatic nature - with the sudden (yet far from surprising) appearance of Kyle's sketchy mother (Melanie Lynskey's Cindy) emblematic of the proceedings' questionable final half hour. It's a minor hiccup that can't quite diminish Win Win's overall impact, as the film is otherwise a strong, consistently entertaining character-based drama that ultimately falls right in line with McCarthy's last film (2007's The Visitor).
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Spotlight (December 30/15)
Based on true events, Spotlight follows several intrepid reporters as they attempt to break a massive scandal involving the Catholic Church's now-notorious coverup of child molestation. Filmmaker Tom McCarthy uses the premise as a launch-pad for a somewhat erratic journalism procedural, as Spotlight, for the most part, comes off as an interesting yet far-from-engrossing drama that succeeds mostly as a showcase for several stellar performances. It's clear that McCarthy has assembled an almost flawless roster of actors, with the movie benefiting substantially from the efforts of, among others, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup. (Mark Ruffalo's turn as Mike Rezendes, on the other hand, doesn't fare nearly as well, as the actor's tick-riddled performance remains distracting and wholly unconvincing from start to finish.) The ongoing emphasis on the minutia of the journalists' efforts admittedly grows a little tedious, and it's clear that the movie is at its best when focused on the more human side of the story (ie the various interviews with victims are fairly riveting). It's worth noting, however, that Spotlight does build in momentum as time progresses, with the film culminating in a satisfying conclusion that's heightened by a few much-needed emotional outbursts from certain characters. There's ultimately little doubt that Spotlight is one of those movies one admires more than one wholeheartedly enjoys, with the stirring performances and inherently searing material compensating for the less-than-captivating atmosphere.