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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Night Listener — DVD Review

In a little ballyhooed film, The Night Listener, Robin Williams offered additional evidence that he can play more than comedic roles. Yet, this true story falls short of its “Hitchcockian” promise, and shot itself in the foot at least once weakening this strange tale.

Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a radio personality who reads his own creative stories over the air. In the midst of breaking up with his gay partner, Jess (Bobby Cannavale), Noone is desperate to fill the void left in his life. He tries to fill that void when a devoted young fan (Rory Culkin as Pete D. Logand), whose gravely ill, and his mother (Toni Collette as Donna D. Logand) who start calling him. When questions arise as to the whether or not he’s talking to two people or one deranged woman looking for sympathy, Noone becomes obsessed with finding out the truth.

There were a couple of serious flaws in this film. The biggest mistake was showing the boy talking to Noone on the phone. There was no suggestion that Noone was just picturing a boy, viewers were clearly seeing a character in the film. We even see him and his mother together. This was completely avoidable and weakened the sense of mystery surrounding their identity.

I also thought Noone’s need for love needed to be a bit clearer up front. That said, I did “get” his obsession on the level of wanting to know whether or not someone he grew to care for even existed. But only when his own need for closeness is clear could his increasingly odd, or aggressive, behavior be understood.

On the positive side, The Night Listener does a solid job of bringing the viewer along. The mystery unfolds very well, as opposed to everything artificially coming together in the end. I’m normally intrigued by characters that are writers, and that at least pulled me in to this film, though this trait could have been put to better use.

One interesting DVD extra explained how the woman portrayed as Donna Logand actually sent letters to the set while filming was going on. It gave the overall experience of learning about this true story more impact, but not really enough to save it.

A writing instructor once told me that just because something was true doesn’t make it a worthwhile subject to write about. That’s how I felt about the ending of this film. I’m sure it looked to stick to the truth, but I wanted more out of it from an entertainment standpoint. A true fan of Williams might enjoy The Night Listener, but few others will. It’s not that good.

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