Review - The Night Listener


Robin Williams and Toni Collette

The radio jock meets the blind social worker in The Night Listener

 

When he switches off the mouth, Robin Williams can be an incredibly effective actor. This is one of those turns, yet it’s ironically about a man who is a professional mouth, a DJ with a late-night show who uses his graveyard phone-in to tell and listen to stories. It’s another of Williams’s characteristics as an actor that he’s happy, let’s say willing, to play characters who either aren’t likeable or are downright nasty, One Hour Photo being the ultimate proof of that. Again ironically, he’s neither here, though he is playing a character despised in much of society – a gay man. There’s a dark almost Hitchcockian feel to the path that leads off from this starting position, as this avuncular “listener” with relationship problems of his own one evening takes a call which knocks a sense of perspective into his own rather meagre life. He learns about a 14-year-old boy who is dying of Aids, thanks to the years of sexual abuse he has been subjected to by his parents and their inner circle – for his eighth birthday this kid got syphilis. The story is a true one – not that of the boy, we’ve no idea about the bones of that case – but about this concerned man forced by a troubled conscience into trying to find then help this poor kid. All he’s got to go on is the prompting of the boy’s carer (Toni Collette), who is blind and so isn’t as much help as she might be. Or possibly, we realise as things wander along, it’s not even beginning to be as simple as all that. The original story is by Armistead Maupin, of Tales of the City fame, who gives himself just enough space to explore the territory he wants – whether it is possible for a middle-aged gay man to reach out and help a pubescent boy without social prejudices kicking in. He concludes… well, that’s the film and I won’t ruin it, having already said a bit too much. Because it is a very slight drama, just solid enough to carry its theoretical payload, but director Patrick Stettner and cinematographer Lisa Rinzler drench everything in an oversexualised creepiness, Williams and Collette both deliver as people whose lives on the margins – his sexually determined, hers by disability and job status – have had an effect on their personalities, and there’s a welcome colour-blind aspect to the multi-ethnic casting decisions. It feels real, in other words.

 

The Night Listener – Watch it/buy it now at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

 

 

 

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imdb poster The Night Listener
The Night Listener
Run time: 91 min
Rating: 5.9
Genres: Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Director: Patrick Stettner
Writers: Armistead Maupin, Terry Anderson
Stars: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Rory Culkin
Trivia: In the midst of his crumbling relationship, a radio show host begins speaking to his biggest fan, a young boy, via the telephone. But when questions about the boy’s identity come up, the host’s life is thrown into chaos.
Storyline Gabriel Noone is a late night radio-host in a big city, specializing in spooky tales culled from his active imagination. When Gabriel’s lover decides he needs some “space” and moves out, Gabriel descends into a funk until a publisher friend brings him a manuscript written by 14 year-old Pete Logand, a troubled young fan. Pete’s story touches the vulnerable Gabriel deeply. Pete was severely abused by his parents and is now under the care of his former social worker, Donna Logand, who has adopted him. Pete is very ill and he and Donna are keeping a low profile in a small town in Wisconsin to avoid discovery by Pete’s mother. Gabriel develops an unsettling long-distance telephone relationship with the boy and his guardian. Nothing is as it seems and the skepticism of friends causes Gabriel to become suspicious of Donna and her motives, so he tries to resolve the loose ends by traveling to Wisconsin to confront Donna and Pete. But this effort is largely unsuccessful and we are left … Written by Joe Jurca
Plot Keywords: boy, telephone, wisconsin, social worker, radio show
Box Office Budget: $4,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: £314,078 (UK) (15 September 2006)
Gross: £616,071 (UK) (22 September 2006)