Film Review - THE NIGHT LISTENER.jpg


Who’s telling the truth?

ROBIN WILLIAMS stars as Gabriel, a radio presenter who shares his, sometimes exaggerated, tales with listeners on his late night programme. As the film begins, his life is in a state of upheaval – his long-time boyfriend Jess (Cannavale), who is HIV-positive, has broken-up with him, and work is getting too much.

Then, a publisher friend, Ashe (Morton), gives Gabriel a manuscript called The Blacking Factory. It is the memoirs of Pete (Culkin), a 14-year-old boy who has suffered years of horrific abuse at the hands of his mother and the men she brought home. Now safely adopted by a social worker named Donna (Collette), Pete calls Gabriel at home, telling him how his radio show has brought him comfort, hope and enjoyment.

Flattered by the self-professed fan, Gabriel begins a friendly relationship with Pete over the phone, while Donna keeps Gabriel informed of Pete’s declining health. When it’s suggested to Gabriel that Pete and Donna sound remarkably similar, Gabriel voices his scepticism to Ashe, who confirms that no one has actually met the boy. Gabriel flies to Wisconsin to meet Pete and Donna face-to-face and discover the truth.

Donna is a reclusive woman, who seems very protective of Pete, especially as he has recently been diagnosed with Aids. She warms to Gabriel, but is hurt to realise he’s there to check the facts of Pete’s memoirs.

Finding the truth may be more complicated than we’re willing to accept. Unlike Gabriel, we’re not just hearing a voice on the telephone. We are witness to Pete himself, so the truth, for us, should be less of a mystery and more of a complicated study of mankind. Gabriel’s journey leads him to Donna; he finds additional truths about her, rather than about Pete, who is never around when Gabriel requests his presence. The deeper Gabriel goes, the more convoluted the explanation is.

The film blurs the lines between truth and fiction, but the pace drags, trudging through the protracted final scenes to a clumsy ending with too many concluding moments, none of them effective.

The Night Listener can’t easily be categorised: it’s part drama, part thriller and part mystery – all in one. There’s a great drama lying just underneath the surface of Gabriel’s two or three personal traumas, but there’s a connection that is missing, which keeps us at a distance while the protagonist tries to work himself out.