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|The Night Listener|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Patrick Stettner|
scr Armistead Maupin, Terry Anderson, Patrick Stettner
with Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Bobby Cannavale, Joe Morton, Rory Culkin, Sandra Oh, John Cullum, Ed Jewett, Joel Garland, Rodrigo Lopresti, James Stankunas, Meg Gibson
release US 4.Aug.06, UK 15.Sep.06
06/US Miramax 1h31
Who are you? Williams and Collette
Moody and intriguing, this slow-burning thriller is based writer Maupin's own experiences. The story is fascinating and often disturbing, but the film never really gets beneath the surface.
Gabriel Noone (Williams) is a late-night New York radio personality who takes listeners through his own life. But his long-time partner (Cannavale) is leaving him, and now his agent (Morton) asks him to read a manuscript by a 14-year-old who has only barely survived years of sexual abuse at the hands of his parents. Gabriel talks extensively on the phone to the boy (Culkin) and his guardian (Collette), but begins to doubt their tale. So he heads to Wisconsin to meet them. And things take a bizarre turn.
Stettner (The Business of Strangers) gets the tone right: this is a low-key drama about a man past his prime, struggling to cope with who he has become. But where Maupin's book was a voyage into his needy soul, this film never gets beyond his face. We get very little sense of Gabriel's yearnings--he merely seems curious, like an amateur sleuth. Williams is fine, but without a more detailed script there's not much he can do with the character.
The best scenes are the conversational ones, which the strong cast invests with powerful authenticity. The astute dialog combines with especially good performances to make us want to know more about these people. Cannavale is very good in another underwritten role. And the marvellous Collette is especially unnerving, filling her character with strangely menacing fragility.
There's plenty to admire about this film, from the classy production design and seductive camera work to the story's powerful themes of connection and dependence. Not to mention strong echoes of the JT Leroy story, which unfolded after this film was made. But we get the sense that Stettner is afraid of actually revealing the guts of this tale, turning serious issues like abuse and Aids into mere plot points and blanding the people into soft, unmotivated movie characters we can only barely identify with. Which leaves the film as an absorbing mystery movie without any real point.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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