The Night Listener

The Night Listener

***

Reviewed by: Chris

Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) tells stories on a late night radio show and is well established. He comes across a book, soon to be published, that sets him off on a search for the truth and that leads him to find part of himself. Toni Collette plays a character whose truth we constantly doubt. The Night Listener raises questions about the dark part which maybe lies in each us, our personal traumas, and the way we deal with them. It asks how much we want to say the things people want to hear, and examines the emotional needs that propel us. While the ending is not too difficult to guess, the subtleties reverberate beyond the simplistic plot.

Gabriel has just spilt up with his (gay) partner. He receives an advance copy of The Blacking Factory - A Diary of Transcendent Hope and Courage, and promises to read it. It tells a terrible tale of the author's abuse as a child, likening that period to the blacking (boot polish) factory that Charles Dickens was sent to when he was twelve, a place that 'not only screwed him up for ever but made him a great writer.' It suggests that we all have a blacking factory, some terrible something that makes us 'lose our baby hearts as well as our baby teeth'. Gabriel is in touch by phone with the author, a boy of only 14 years, and his new adopted mother (Toni Collette). The boy is dying and Gabriel soon becomes quite attached to him even though he has never met him. Gabriel's ex calls and heartlessly suggests that things might not be what they seem, reminding Gabriel how he embellished the truth when it came to relating incidents from their own life together as real-life stories on the radio.

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As the mystery unfolds, we get a warm and very human picture of the gay community that is part of Gabriel's world, and feel for him as he pursues his enquiries in ways that lead to his being misunderstood when often only we know the goodness of his true intentions. By now, we are aware that the mystery is as much about the emotions and psychologies of the people involved, and there are many lines that leave us guessing. "The hell of it is," says Colette's character, "we're only loved as much as we think we are." Later, Gabriel says, "Real isn't the thing you're made, it's the thing that happens to you."

Collette and Williams are very watchable, although Williams perhaps has not reached the point where he can throw himself into a serious part as well as he has in the past with comic ones. Sandra Oh (Sideways, Under The Tuscan Sun) puts in a first class supporting role, charismatic and crisply confident in welcome contrast to the muddled lives of the main characters.

Inspired by true events, the Night Listener is a thoughtful work, marred a little by its own self-consciousness and portentous (if necessary) slowness; it may have limited appeal considering the size of market aimed at by its inclusion of top names.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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The Night Listener packshot
A radio show host is drawn into a mystery surrounding a dying boy.
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Director: Patrick Stettner

Writer: Armistead Maupin, Terry Anderson, Patrick Stettner

Starring: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Joe Morton, Bobby Cannavale, Rory Culkin, Sandra Oh

Year: 2006

Runtime: 82 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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