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Movie Review: The Night Listener

Here is a movie that I thought was interesting based on what little I had seen from the commercials. The trailers seemed to promise creepy atmosphere and an intriguing mystery of a kid who may or may not exist. Fast forward, I have now left the theater and I have found my hopes and dreams have been dashed. Well, that may be overreacting a little bit, but to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

The film ends with a caption stating that this was based on a true story of someone who had a telephone relationship with a 14 year old boy, who may or may not have actually existed. My answer to that is "So what?" Honestly, who really cares if the anonymous person existed or not? They make no mention of if anything resulted from this relationship or not, making anything presented in the movie pure conjecture.

They would have been better off if they had just left that out and just presented it as a fictional tale of mystery. The whole "based on a true story" schtick is getting a bit old anyway, more a marketing ploy than anything that will sell more tickets. Then there is the whole did he or didn't he exist, does it really matter? I am sure there are many people who have online friendships with people that may or may not be real. No real revelation there.

The entire film hinges on a line of dialog that doesn't really carry the weight that it should for the role it plays. This line sends our hero on a quest that just strikes me as terribly inconsequential. He leaves his home in New York, travels to Wisconsin, and goes on a search for a boy with whom he has befriended through phone communication. The relationship got a kick-start by his receiving a book, written by the boy, detailing years of physical and mental abuse at the hands of his parents.

Before we get there, we are introduced to Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams), a writer who shares his story by way of a late night radio show. We learn he is going through a bit or a writing dry spell. We learn he is gay, and has a lover, Jesse (Bobby Cannavale). We also learn he has a friend in the publishing world. Unfortunately, not much has any real bearing on the plot. The radio show is mere framework, the gay thing is there for a couple of vulgar remarks, and the publishing friend is a mere facilitator. Everything taken together, the story is more hooked together by convenient plot points than any type of natural flow.

The story picks up steam as Noone tries to ascertain the actual existence of the boy. He meets up with Donna (Toni Collette), who is supposedly the boy's adoptive mother. It becomes quite clear, even without the explanation, where they are heading with the story. It builds to an inevitable if unsatisfying conclusion.

The Night Listener is hampered by slow and uneven pacing. I do not normally have any issues with a slow pace, but the editing is so poor in this case, there is very little consistency from one scene to the next. There is a very jumpy feel to it that I cannot adequately explain, but if you see it I am sure you will notice how the film does not have a comfortable flow. This flow serves to hurt the slow pace, making it seem even slower.

It is always frustrating watching a movie like this. There is clearly a better movie here than what has been delivered. In addition to that, the cast is quite good, and their performances are good as well. It makes me sad watching good actors give good performances when dealing with a poor script in a poor movie. Robin Williams and Toni Collette both turn in fine work as Gabriel and Logand, respectively.

Williams best work of recent years has been his dramatic turns in films such as The Final Cut, Insomnia, and One Hour Photo. This continues his good dramatic work, even if the film doesn't really deserve it. Collette is convincing as the troubled adoptive mother, and probably does the best work in this film. The supporting cast is also fine, for the most part, including Bobby Cannavale, Joe Morton, and Sandra Oh, even if I am not sure of the actual point of her character.

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