Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Night Listener

Are You Trying to Seduce Me?

I've mentioned in an earlier review this year that my memories of my first encounter with the works of Robin Williams is the Mork and Mindy television series. Williams is probably known for his madcap ad-libbing and comedies, but when called upon for some serious drama, he's shown that he's no pushover too. From his inspirational Dead Poets Society to roles in Insomnia, One Hour Photo and The Final Cut, I'm currently awaiting his return to comedy in Man of the Year, after the so-so RV.

The Night Listener sees Williams taking on the more serious deadpan role again as gay night time radio show host Gabriel Noone, who's just about reeling from his latest relationship woes. As an outlet for his issues on both the personal and business fronts, he gets introduced to a fan of his talk show, Pete, a childhood-abused teenage boy suffering from terminal illness, now living with a foster parent. Over time, Gabriel has established a close relationship with the boy, and now wants to meet him. Problem is, given conspiracy theories, is Pete who he claims to be?

The movie actually toys with the idea behind anonymous or unverified identities, and how we go about validating them, and gaining trust. For example, how do we know from an email, if the person who sent it is who he/she claims to be? In this modern communication age, and with the proliferation of identity theft, anyone can be anyone else, with no one the wiser. While the practicality of the theory shown in the movie might be a little far fetched and difficult to pull off, it generally gives you a flavour of what could possibly happen.

Inspired by true events, The Night Listener is genuinely creepy. It doesn't shock and awe, but by its measured moments in silence and anticipation, build up eerie and sinister revelatory scenes without drowning it in repeated crescendos. But freaky feelings aside, the movie also explores as a subplot, the human condition of lapsing into exaggeration to spice up one's life.

While Robin Williams shows incredible restraint in not even mouthing a single funny line, but moves through the show carrying a pained look beneath his bearded exterior, the show belongs to Toni Collette. She's currently a rising star, and you would have remembered her from movies like The Sixth Sense, and more recently, In Her Shoes and the upcoming Little Miss Sunshine. Here, she showed both vulnerability and moments of psychosis, and is just simply scary in some of her scenes. Rounding off the notables are Sandra Oh, who's again as underused as her stint in Hard Candy, and the youngest of the Culkin siblings Rory.

It's a decent psychological thriller without much bells and whistles, made enjoyable through the casts' delivery.

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