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THE NIGHT LISTENER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Bobby Cannavale, Joe Morton, Rory Culkin, Sandra Oh
Director: Patrick Stettner
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 81 Minutes
Release Date: January 9, 2007

“Your story doesn’t have an ending, Gabriel.”

Film ***

After watching The Night Listener, I felt a certain feeling of creepiness I rarely feel from a moody thriller. It’s a feeling that is simply hard to describe. I was also thinking to myself, “Could this have possibly happen?” Just a few nights later, I happened to have the TV tuned to a late night news program, and one of the featured stories was the very one that inspired both this film and the book it was based on.

This is possibly the first thriller I’ve seen that combines true events with a certain Hitchcockian thriller touch. It’s also happens to be a subtle thriller. There’s virtually very little violence on screen, and nobody is even killed in this story, and yet in the end you can get the eeriness of the story out of your head.

We’ve seen Robin Williams grow into an amazing dramatic actor over the years in films such as Good Will Hunting, Insomnia and One Hour Photo, and here he delivers his quietest performance yet, not once beginning to utter anything remotely humorous. Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a writer who hosts a radio storytelling program called “Noone at Night”.

Gabriel is going through some personal trials. His lover decides to take a break from their relationship, and he’s been suffering from writers block for some time. But his life takes a sudden detour when a colleague hands him an autobiographical manuscript written by a 14 year old boy. It details his abusive upbringing, and those details are too graphic and disturbing for anyone to imagine.

Having admired the words from the young boy, Gabriel gets an unexpected phone call from the very writer of the material, Pete Logand (Rory Culkin). As it turns out, Pete has been a frequent listener of Gabriel’s radio show and is a fan. The two strike a friendship over the phone. The two exchange words during multiple phone conversations, but a deadly illness that Pete has contracted keeps him from the phone at times, at which point Gabriel is talking to the boy’s foster mother, Donna (Toni Collette).

But the mystery of the story kicks in when a companion of Gabriel’s notices a strange similarity in the sound of voices of Pete and Donna over the phone. Gabriel finds that entirely preposterous since he has a photo of the boy and no one in their right mind would try wasting his time with such a chilling prank. But the same companion questions if the boy in the photo is the person Gabriel has been talking to.

Puzzled by this point, Gabriel travels to the boy’s residence in Wisconsin to discover the truth for himself. He does meet Donna, but he can’t seem to get a straight answer as to the location of Pete. Not only does she tell him that he’s in the town hospital, but everyone else he asks in the small town tell him the same thing, which confuses him even more after he goes to the only hospital in town and seeing nothing to support the evidence.

While The Night Listener is by no means one of the greatest thrillers to hit the screen, it’s one that stays with you long after seeing it, and that’s perhaps the best quality of a thriller to have if any. And Williams amazingly restrained performance is another fantastic quality as the actor adds another terrific chameleon performance to his resume, illustrating that he is quite simply one of the most versatile actors of our generation.

Video ***

This anamorphic presentation from Miramax is mostly solid. The image is quite clear for the most part. There are heavy doses of scenes at nighttime, and some of those appear with a slight case of grain here and there but nothing too distracting. All the way an acceptable presentation!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix delivers nicely for this dialogue-oriented thriller. Words are spoken in terrific clarity and the music playback is quite strong. There are also a couple of scenes of suspense that deliver tremendously.

Features **

Featured on this release is a well handled behind the scenes featurette titled “The Night Listener Revealed” a Deleted Scene and several Bonus Previews for additional Buena Vista titles.

Summary:

The Night Listener is a tense and moody psychological thriller that earns its thriller qualities by putting you in the shoes of the lead character and in the end we both don’t know what to make of what has happened. A nice little chill of a film.

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