The Night Listener

Cover Art and Menu: 4/10
This is a thriller movie, but the cover looks like a love triangle. The color is ok, but the look is so blah. The menus are the same, functional, not fantastic. I’m waiting for fantastic!!

Extras & Features: 7/10

  • Deleted scene – One deleted funny. The editor introduces this clip with a very odd approach. He’s glad he cut this scene. That’s not common, even though I think he’s right. It wouldn’t have fit into the movie very well.
  • The Night Listener Revealed Featurette – The truth behind the story is revealed through interviews with the screenwriters, cast, and director. Anytime a movie starts with “based on a true story” should be required to put his kind of extra on the DVD. Let’s face it, “based on true story” could be bullhocky, so it’s good to get the real back story.

The Movie: 7/10
I enjoy films with a bit of truth behind them, even if I have no illusions about the way “the truth” is interpreted by Hollywood. The Night Listener has that grain of truth, the weird type of truth that makes you kind of cringe when you think about it. The story of Night Listener has at it’s heart needy, desperate people who will follow dark paths to find love and acceptance. I know those people. I’ve been those people.

A teenage boy has written a book about his horrible abuse as a child. In the process of getting the book published a night time radio story teller, played by Robin Williams, gets drawn into the drama. Williams is in the middle of a romantic break up and it’s obvious from the start that he’s a little bit unstable, or at least at a tumultuous point in his life. His weaknesses are revealed early. He’s got some bitterness, some resentment, some self pity, but he’s got that gentle quality that makes his neediness seem natural and sad. I wanted someone to swoop down and make him feel comfy and cozy again, but he just seems destined to be lost and alone. That’s a credit to Williams who plays this damaged guy with a real sensitivity and genuine all-in approach. He doesn’t skip a beat from the more sensitive moments to the later tough nut scenes. But from the beginning, as you watch him get drawn into the boy’s life, at first he begins to settle into the relationship as friend and confidant to a troubled youth. It gives him a certain liveliness he doesn’t have when we first see him.

The film does tease us from time to time, or does it? We get assorted images of what the aging radio storyteller learns from the manuscript of the book. Later there are scenes that as I watched I felt there was something off about them. That feeling toyed with my perception of the characters and with the story at the same time. I like that. The look of the movie is mostly dark, somewhat depressing, but that’s part of the story, so it fits. The pace is right for what begins to turn into a mystery thriller, quick, but at times methodical enough to keep it from being a full on action/thriller caricature.

Along with the dark look of the film, my mind goes dark and through my skeptical eyes I was looking for twists or turns. Even with my darkening attitude, I still was taken by Gabriel’s sympathy and need to care for the boy. The adoptive guardian, Donna, invites Gabriel (Williams) for Christmas, but then cancels when she says the boy’s health is failing (due to sexually transmitted diseases he got through the abuse). The questions start to creep in, is the boy real? Are the voices on the phone the same person? Gabriel’s new found feelings of being needed and finding someone to care about are beginning to shatter. Eventually he follows some leads and his gut feelings to find these people. The truth is revealed to him, even though it may not be what he imagined it to be.

The reality behind the script isn’t the thing that grabs me about the story. It’s the revealed heart of each person and their attempts at finding, keeping, and giving love. We all do things for love, even if some of us do what seems extreme. Mingled with Gabriel’s lose of his long term relationship and now the possibility of being tricked by another human into feeling something, caring for someone, comes a new self assuredness. On his quest to find the truth his weakness melts away, he becomes determined and physically more bold. He will do anything to get to the bottom of things. Does the boy exist? Does the woman exist? Is one of them pretending to be the other to fool Gabriel for any reason?

I like the examination of need and wanting. People do crazy shit all the time to be loved, and to keep people in their lives. It’s often destructive, damaging, and selfish. This isn’t a beautiful or poignant film in anyway. It didn’t make me sit back and go, “wow!”, but it’s a solid film with a story that will haunt you later after a while. You will be thinking of it driving to work or sitting on the toilet and the real creepiness will crawl into your mind.

Value: 4/10
I would recommend that you rent this thriller flick for like 3 bucks. It’s not a bargain for the 20+ price tag. The extras are good, but not enough to make it a package worth adding to my DVD shelf permanently.

Overall Score 7/10