Night Listener

Rating:

ROBIN WILLIAMS SHINES IN THIS UNAPPRECIATED THRILLER

Main Cast: Robin Williams, Toni Collette

Director: Patrick Stettner

Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams, of being Robin friggin’ Williams) is a talk radio host who makes his living telling stories. When he and his boyfriend Jess (Bobby Cannavale, “Boardwalk Empire”) split up, Gabriel has a hard time focusing on work, so a friend gives him a manuscript to read. Not for a blurb, he insists, but as a distraction. The story, a real-life account of a childhood spent forced into child porn by his dirt bag parents, captures Gabriel’s attention and he soon strikes up a meaningful telephone friendship with the author, a 14-year-old boy living with AIDS as a result of his childhood, now living with an adopted parent in the middle of Nowhere, Wisconsin.

Gabriel is finally finding some new pleasures in life, doling out the attention he no longer gets to spend on his boyfriend on this new person, until the day Jess happens to be over while Gabriel is on the phone. After they hang up, Jess mentions how the boy, Pete, and his adopted mother, Donna (Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense), sound an awful lot alike.

Gabriel searches desperately for proof of Pete’s existence, but all signs point, at best, to “maybe”. So Gabriel, eager to not lose another friend, goes in search of the boy to prove to Jess, and to himself, that Pete is real. What he finds when he gets there, however, is anything but the pleasant “reunion” he had hoped for.

The Night Listener is an adaptation of the book of the same name, written and adapted for the screen by Armistead Maupin and directed by Patrick Stettner. The film seemed to come and go unnoticed upon its release in 2006, and I’d never heard of it until I bought the 6-movie HAUNTED SPIRITS DVD set in 2012. Unfortunately, as good as the movie is, I can’t see why it was included on a set of “haunted” movies when there’s not a ghost in sight anywhere in this story. In fact, there’s not a single supernatural element here. But whatever.

That being said, yes, this is a very good movie, mostly thanks to Robin Williams who turns in an incredible performance, understated and packed full of drama. It’s things like this that, for me, make his loss all the more tragic. No one with this much talent should go out by their own hand. That’s what I think.

The supporting cast is just as good here. Toni Collette and Bobby Cannavale more than hold their own against one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and Williams’s Gabriel is downplayed just enough to let them shine.

I think Stettner missed a few opportunities in the story to ramp up the suspense, but at the same time, he’s able to convey so much information without a single word being spoken. Plus he found a way to make Sandra Oh, whom I’ve NEVER been a fan of, likable, which is a huge win in my book.

The story is based on actual events from Maupin’s life and raises a number of very valid questions about how well we know the people in our lives, even the ones we call friends, as well as addressing the question of how some people deal with tragedies in their lives.

This was a powerful story and a very watchable movie, one I could easily sit through again, and possibly again. Sure, there are no real surprises after the first go-round, but there are definitely clues to make it clearer sooner, but even without that, it’s just a very well-made movie. Definitely worth watching and very much recommended.

–C. Dennis Moore

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