"THE NIGHT LISTENER"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Robin Williams as GABRIEL NOONE
Toni Collette as DONNA D. LOGAND
Joe Morton as ASHE
Bobby Cannavale as JESS
Rory Culkin as PETE D. LOGAND
Sandra Oh as ANNA
Directed by: Patrick Stettner
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As a critic, I am often asked whether our opinions really have any effect on movies. Inevitably, I say that they do, and no matter what the opinion is (good or bad), it usually has a positive effect on films. After all, whether we write a good review or a bad review, the movie is getting press. Remember that old adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity?
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So the recent decision in Hollywood to refuse to hold press screenings for certain films (mainly horror movies and screwball comedies for the teenage market), is just utter nonsense. I mean, bad reviews don’t kill movies. Bad movies kill movies.
The only time I feel that critics can have a negative impact are when films are billed a certain way and they turn out to be something else entirely. In the end, the failure of the film isn’t really the critics’ fault, but rather the studio for misleading the public in their advertising and killing word of mouth.
“The Night Listener” is a great example of this. It was advertised as a chilling movie with an implied supernatural undertone. Considering it starred Robin Williams and had a more mature and somber approach than your latest slice-and-dice horror flick, this was a good sign.
Additionally, I do a lot of radio reviews. In “The Night Listener,” Robin Williams plays a radio host, so naturally that sparked the interest of many of the hosts I talked to. They were sorely disappointed when I told them that the movie really wasn’t about radio, but that it was just this guy’s job. Additionally, when I explained this is more of a dramatic, non-supernatural psychological thriller, the wind came out of their sails.
Again, I don’t think that critics killed “The Night Listener.” Rather, poor word of mouth did when people discovered that this movie was not what they were expecting.
The movie tells the story of Gabriel Noone (Williams), a radio host in New York who reads books on the air. He’s given a manuscript from a boy who tells the story of ritualistic abuse at the hands of his family. Fascinated by the boy’s story, Noone starts to call the boy and strikes up a friendship with him and the social worker caring for him.
When Noone’s friend suggests that this boy may not be real and actually sounds too much like the social worker to be a different person, Noone sets out to prove him wrong. This leads him on a road trip to confront the boy and his guardian, which results in a dangerous confrontation.
I gave this film three out of five stars mainly for Williams’ acting performance. The build-up is great, but there’s a serious let-down at the end. It’s worth checking out for atmospheric tension and the acting from Williams and Toni Collette. However, as a story, it falls apart.
The DVD actually turns out to be more interesting. In addition to a deleted scene (which is nothing special), there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the story. It includes interviews with Armistad Maupin, whose real life encounter with a possibly invented child victim serves as the inspiration for the film. However, more interesting are the interviews with Maupin’s former lover Terry Anderson, who gives a unique inside-yet-outside view of the entire situation.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Widescreen (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Spanish language subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.