Noone or is it No One
Inspired by a true story "The Night Listener" is a bit of a mixed bag of a psychological thriller. I would even say it is inconsistent because the story is good but then seems drawn out, Robin Williams plays a decent serious character yet there are uncharacteristic elements to him. It is a case that "The Night Listener" is trying to be mysterious as we have a storyline which reveals itself as each layer is peeled away but there are a few too many layers to peel away.
Late night radio show host Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams - Noel) is on a bit of a downer ever since his boyfriend moved out. His friends are concerned including publisher Ashe (Joe Morton) who gives him a yet to be published book written by a 14 year old boy who recounts the abuse he suffered as he now faces death from Aids. Intrigued by this boy, Pete's (Rory Culkin) story who is cared for by Donna (Toni Collette - Little Miss Sunshine) a social worker, Gabriel starts having regular phone conversations with the both of them. But when Gabriel's former boyfriend sceptically suggests there is no Pete, Gabriel feels he has to prove he is real.
So "The Night Listener" is one of those movies which have several layers which each time one is peeled back something changes throwing up a possibility. For example after Gabriel speaks to his former boyfriend Jess about young Pete, Jess suggests that maybe Gabriel made him up having spent years of watching him use elements of their life for stories on his radio show. And then we have the phone call where Jess hears first Pete and then Donna and suggests that they are the same person. There are a lot more of these layers which peel back to make us and Gabriel question the existence of Pete. In fact we are pretty much Gabriel in the movie thanks to a "noir" style opening narration which puts us in his shoes.
The trouble for me is that there are just a few too many layers too this story and some of them work better than others. Ironically at just 91 minutes "The Night Listener" isn't long but because some of these layers feels superfluous it makes it feel drawn out bordering on the slow. When Gabriel decides he is going to where Pete and Donna lives and we get a scene on the plane, it doesn't really add anything other than a touch of humour which in itself is out of style with the rest of the movie. It's annoying because it becomes inconsistent, we have serious drama and then a throw away jokey moment, we get powerful layers but ten layers which don't move the story on. And whilst I loved the ambiguous ending to "The Night Listener" I know there will be those who will be frustrated.
Going back to the inconsistency well that creeps into the characters as well, not Donna played by Toni Collette as Donna is a purposefully inconsistent and eerie character. But the character of Gabriel is inconsistent, we have depression yet moments of humour, we have a timid man yet one who we watch sneaks into a hospital and runs from security. It is a shame that the character ends up wrong as Robin Williams delivers another solid, serious performance, purposefully monotone and withdrawn to make us unsure of him.
What this all boils down to is that "The Night Listener" is a fascinating movie when many plus points which make it work, makes you think as elements are revealed. But because there are too many layers with some being out of tone with the rest of the movie it becomes inconsistent with character elements which don't make sense, spoiling what otherwise could have been an above average psychological thriller.