Saturday, August 5, 2006

Reel To Reel: The Night Listener

When truth is stranger than fiction.

How It Rates: ****
Starring: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, Rory Culkin
Rated: R
Red Flags: Strong Language, Mature Themes

Describing more than a snippet of plot of The Night Listener would drain the fuel from this film's suspense engine. It's the kind of film Alfred Hitchcock would have directed, where horror is suggested and not shown.

Williams plays Gabriel Noone, writer and public-radio storyteller struggling with the words coming out of his mouth. His HIV-positive partner has left him and dried up his creative juices. A friend lends him a manuscript from a sick 14-year-old (Culkin), who details a sickening childhood of sexual abuse, and Noone is entranced by the story. He soon gets a call from the boy, who happens to be a fan of Noone's show.

But something isn't right about the boy, his story, or his mother (Collette). That's where the suspense begins and my plot summary ends. Instead, let's focus on Robin Williams, who demonstrated the ability to play troubled, slightly creepy people with emotional depth in One Hour Photo and Insomnia. You realise this isn't a film about a boy; it's about a man consumed by a story, much like last year's Capote. Pursuit of the facts leads Noone onto paths that will either reward or destroy him.

Effective suspense plays upon us knowing nothing more than the principal character caught in the intrigue but allowing us to guess several ways out. The film handles this beautifully. We are allowed to absorb and think about the story as Noone encounters it, and the film does not send up needless flags or dramatic sidebars to underscore tension. Less is more. Silence is golden. And nothing sells like a good story.

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