"The Night Listener": A haunting story with little fright factor
Seattle Times movie critic
File "The Night Listener" under Missed Opportunities. The film, an adaptation of Armistead Maupin's novel (itself based on a real event in Maupin's life), has a truly haunting story to tell.
Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams), a radio storyteller, forms a telephone friendship with Pete Logand, a 14-year-old invalid, survivor of a hellishly abusive childhood and author of a soon-to-be-published memoir. When it's pointed out to Gabriel that the boy's voice sounds an awful lot like that of Pete's adoptive mother, Donna (Toni Collette), questions arise. Pete's editor (Joe Morton), it turns out, has never met him; and Donna repeatedly insists that Pete's poor health rules out personal visits.
Does Pete exist? And how badly does Gabriel, a writer who lives in a world of embellished lives, need him to be real? This is fascinating territory, and director/co-writer Patrick Stettner begins things promisingly, with a kaleidoscope of strange, hypnotic images over the opening credits; faces twisting and morphing until they slip away. But the movie proves to be frustratingly brief and awkwardly structured, veering from the novel in increasingly implausible scenes. (In one, middle-aged Gabriel, despite an ankle injury, outruns hospital security guards; in another, he breaks into a house, which seems entirely out of character.)
Williams' performance is mostly one note; Gabriel (who's recovering from a recently ended relationship) is mostly distraught, in a stoic way. The actor's rumbling voice suits a radio announcer, but too often feels artificial and stagy in Gabriel's off-air moments. Collette, whose Donna may or may not be insane, doesn't get enough screen time to let us grasp her character. The story's intrigue gradually slips away, and we're left with some good actors staring at each other, wondering where the drama went.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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