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The Night Listener DVD Review

The Night Listener

January 24, 2007

Director: Patrick Stettner,
Starring: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Bobby Cannavale, Joe Morton, John Cullum, Rory Culkin, Lisa Emery, ,

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DVD Review

Gabriel Noone (Williams) is a writer and a late night talk show host in New York City who is in the midst of a creative funk – nothing seems to work anymore. His lover, Jess (Cannavale) has just moved out and this leaves him feeling a little isolated. Gabriel’s publisher (Morton) gives him a manuscript to read and it’s a raw, powerful account of sexual abuse written by a 14-year-old boy named Pete (Culkin). Gabriel gets the kid’s phone number and they talk for a few minutes and really hit it off but its cut short by the child’s myriad of health problems brought on by a history of abuse.

Over the next couple of weeks they continue to talk over the phone and a friendship develops. It turns out that Pete’s dying of AIDS and is being taken care of by a case worker named Donna (Collette) whom Gabriel speaks to on several occasions as well. Is Gabriel getting too involved in Pete’s story? Jess even suggests that maybe the kid’s story is bogus. Pete and Donna don’t really offer that much concrete information and there is no way for Gabriel to verify their claims. For example, Donna invites him for Christmas and then cancels at the last minute because any outside influence may make Pete sicker. Is it just a coincidence or is Pete’s story really a sham?

Robin Williams delivers one of his more restrained, understated performances as a lonely man drawn to a compelling story. So much so that he becomes obsessed with it. He keeps the film grounded and his character sympathetic until Gabriel’s obsession veers slightly into stalker territory and he does something that seems out of character even for someone who is as caught up in this mystery as he is.

The Night Listener plays around with notions of identity. Are people really who they say they are and if not then why? Imagination is a powerful thing. Sometimes you really want to believe in something or someone even if it isn’t real. The film is also about loneliness. Gabriel is an isolated figure as is Donna. They try to connect with each other but their relationship is ultimately based on a lie. All that these two people want is someone, anyone, to listen to them. As a result, they create stories to protect themselves from the outside world.

Special Features:

“The Night Listener Revealed” is a behind-the-scenes featurette that explores the actual events that happened to Maupin and Anderson. They recount their experiences (Maupin is still not sure if the boy really exists) and talk about how weird it was to see movie stars playing them in a movie. The featurette also examines, briefly, how the film came together.

Also included is a deleted scene that spells out the ending of the film in a much more explicit and ultimately unsatisfying way and was rightly cut by the director.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 75%

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