You want to know why Robin Williams hasn’t won an Oscar for Best Actor and only one for Supporting Actor? It’s because of movies like The Night Listener, One Hour Photo and Insomnia. Williams has proven on several occasions that he is a powerful dramatic actor and he proves it yet again with The Night Listener, unfortunately the writing and story come up short each and every time. Williams was creepy as hell in both One Hour Photo and Insomnia, but the movies just seemed to fizzle out. With The Night Listener he is on the opposite end of the creepy stick and the story just can’t seem to handle the weight.
Clocking in at about 75 minutes The Night Listener tells the story of late night radio storyteller Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) as he is asked by a friend (Joe Morton) to read over a manuscript written by a 14-year-old boy named Pete Logand (Rory Culkin). The story is a grisly tale of sexual perversion the boy endured at the hands his biological parents and written with such clarity Noone is taken aback and ultimately creates an over-the-phone relationship with the young man.
As time wears on suspicion begins to grow as to the validity of the story and doubts begin to surround Pete’s adopting mother Donna played to the extreme by Toni Collette who has proven, both with this film and In Her Shoes, that she has the acting chops to become one of our better actresses. She plays Donna with such disturbing ambiguity that you are never quite certain where she stands, a character trait that keeps Gabriel interested, yet it is a mystery that appears all to easy to solve for the viewing public.
The Night Listener is a mystery as much as it is a character piece as it investigates Gabriel’s life as a gay man that has just ended a relationship with his longtime boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) and now appears to be on a wild goose chase, looking for the young man that filled that void just at the right time. The film certainly does have layers, but once they are easily peeled away you are left with a somewhat flimsy premise that is supposed to be holding all the layers together.
The Night Listener would have been a fantastic TV movie for a late night on TNT, but on the big screen it sort of flounders. By no means is this movie a dead fish, but it is probably best saved for home video.