The Night Listener is a Hitchcockian version of Shattered Glass, the story of what happens when sketchy journalism and mental instability collide. Robin Williams plays a pretentious NPR storyteller (think: Ira Glass of This American Life) who is introduced by telephone, by his publisher/agent, to a gifted young novelist named Pete.
Peter, played by Rory Culkin, has escaped a life of pornographic pedophilia imposed on him by his parents (in their basement studio), to complete the great American novel. However, he is now dying from AIDS (apparently from being raped by straight men during the making of pornos) and his dying wish is to have his story published. Given the recent "Frey" around fictionalized biographies, the story is timely.
Williams' character Gabriel, recently shaken by a breakup with his HIV-positive lover, develops a deep phone relationship with the budding novelist and his adoptive mother Donna, played by Toni Collette (who is also featured in the Sundance '06 selection Little Miss Sunshine).
As the story unfolds Gabriel starts to doubt the authenticity of Pete--and his mother's--claims. Gabriel is forced to look inward as well, knowing that he has taken many liberties in his storied, storytelling career. As you can guess, it's not enough for our protagonist to just wonder if he's being duped. Nope, he's got to hit the road and travel to Wisconsin to get to the bottom of this mystery. Cold landscapes, dank basements, dark shadows, and other creepy devices ensue.
At 90 minutes the film has a nice, suspenseful pace, and doesn't go for the cheap thrill. The tension is built while we try to understand the psychosis. Based on the book by Armistead Maupin, the story includes plenty of plot twists. Highly recommended for those who like intelligent thrillers--or Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Others on The Night Listener: Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter was intrigued by the film, which he says "bristles with intriguing thoughts about the realm of fiction, how one loves, [and] issues of identity...". Our own James Rocchi was also impressed, calling the film "a strand of story strung out into the dark, coaxing us along as it unravels and leading us to think about who we are." Variety's David Rooney, however, was less interested in a work he calls "tediously solemn," and totally lacking "tension or dramatic structure."