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The Night Listener

The Night Listener is a rather intense psychological character piece that keeps you on edge—as well as intrigued—with the promise of malevolence at every turn.


Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Armistead Maupin, this haunting, albeit slow moving, mystery follows the disturbingly eerie twists and turns that unfold in the relationship between a popular late-night radio host Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams), who is in the throes of his own personal crisis, and a devoted 14 year-old listener named Pete (Rory Culkin), who has written a memoir describing a terrifying childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse. What begins as a long-distance phone relationship, the wounded Gabriel soon bonds with the precocious boy as a surrogate father. But things start to get dicey when Gabriel grows more and more suspicious of Pete"s overprotective adopted mother (Toni Collette). Suddenly, Gabriel finds himself on a desperate quest to uncover the elusive truth on whether Pete"s stories are for real, or, more importantly, if Pete even exists at all.


Many may forget that Williams is a Julliard-trained actor. He can handle emotional range and has done so in films such as Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting, which won him his Oscar. Of course, we still love it when he acts like a nut. In fact, during certain moments in Listener, when Williams is on the radio, you half expect the funnyman to yell, "Good Morning Vietnam!" But of course the 55 year-old Williams has obviously matured and is easily convincing as the low-key Gabriel, dealing with the demise of his 10 year relationship with his lover, played nicely by Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent), as well as trying to unravel this strange mystery, which grows more macabre by the minute. Matching Williams' intensity is Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), as Pete"s enigmatic mom Donna, who is pretty much the center of all the creepiness. The underrated actress is one of those performers who generally throws vanity aside to dig deep and give honest portrayals, no matter how twisted they are.


It"s evident The Night Listener is something close to Maupin"s heart, having had a similar real-life experience with his ex-partner Terry Anderson and a young devoted fan. The screenplay was adapted by the acclaimed author, along with Anderson and Patrick Stettner (The Business of Strangers)—who takes the helm on this psychological thriller—so it"s no surprise how well they tap into the same nightmarish journey the bestselling page-turner takes you on. Listener explores the nature of lies and how much we are willing to believe them when in an emotional crisis. And much like a great Hitchcock thriller, Stettner also keeps you on your toes by peeling away each layer the deeper Gabriel gets involved. After flying to the where Pete is suppose to live, things really start to get weird until Gabriel finally asks, "What the hell am I doing here?" It"s a very valid question. But that"s sort of the beauty of the film. You"re expecting any manner of bad things to happen but are surprised by the outcome nonetheless.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.