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The Night Listener

Robin Williams in The Night Listener

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews With Robin Wiliams, Director Patrick Stenner and Writer/Producer Armistead Maupin; Theatrical Trailer.

ROBIN Williams has delivered some of the most memorable performances of his career when exploring the darker side of life – whether playing a shrink in Good Will Hunting, a killer in Insomnia or a stalker in One Hour Photo.

The Night Listener provides him with his latest opportunity and is an eerie, thoughtful psychological thriller that’s partly inspired by true events.

The story in question is based upon a novel by Armistead Maupin, a writer and radio storyteller who, in 1992, received a manuscript from a 14-year-old boy about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the female social worker who rescued him from despair.

Maupin subsequently developed a relationship with the boy over the phone until he came to suspect that the boy may never exist.

The film, directed by Patrick Stettner, finds Williams tackling the Maupin role (now called Gabriel Noone) and attempting to discover the truth about the boy’s existence while coming to terms with the break-up of his own homosexual relationship with long-term lover, Jess (played by Bobby Cannavale).

His journey eventually takes him from New York to Wisconsin, where he finally gets to meet the social worker (Toni Collette) who rescued the boy (named Pete, played by Rory Culkin) from his despair.

But every time Gabriel gets close to meeting the teenager, fate conspires to keep them apart.

Stettner’s film, which was co-written by himself, Maupin and real-life Jess, Terry Anderson, establishes an air of creepiness from the outset and refuses to let go.

Fuelled by some terrifically low-key performances, it also provides plenty of twists to keep the thriller fans among you guessing, as well as a highly involving emotional tale about loss and relationships as well.

Williams is superb as the caring writer whose determination to find the boy is driven as much by his heart as his anger at potentially being deceived. Coupled with his hurt over the recent break-up, it adds to a richly layered performance that only relies on moments of brief, sarcastic humour to lighten the load.

Collette, too, shines as the social worker, emerging as both sinister and sympathetic at different times, while Cannavale enjoys some nice interplay with Williams as they examine their relationship. Sandra Oh is also good value as a friend of Gabriel’s who helps to decipher some clues.

The use of low lighting and a lot of night-time locations also helps to keep things suitably sombre and atmospheric.

The Night Listener may be a little too low-key for some tastes – there are no big shock moments and the film never resorts to obvious cliches – but for anyone who likes their thrillers to come tightly wrapped and convincingly played, it delivers plenty to get involved with.

Its basis in reality also lends it an extra element of intrigue that’s merely heightened by the director’s footnote at the end. It ensures the film retains a haunting quality that remains with you long into the evening.

Read our interview with Robin Williams

Certificate: 15
Running time: 91mins