Celebrated late-night radio show host Gabriel Noone (Williams) strikes up a telephone relationship with his biggest fan, 14 year-old Pete (Culkin), whose unpublished autobiography evokes sympathy for his troubled life. When questions emerge about the boy
Tales Of The City author Armistead Maupin was in the middle of a break-up with his partner, writer Terry Anderson, when he struck up a telephone friendship with a 14 year-old fan, a precociously gifted would-be writer who had documented a lifetime of sexual abuse in a raw, cathartic autobiography. As both Maupin and Anderson grew closer to the boy and his adoptive mother, however, questions began to arise regarding not only the story’s veracity, but the boy’s very existence. Was his story an elaborate fiction? More troublingly, could ‘Pete’ be the product of the woman’s disturbed imagination?
Having used these real-life events as the basis for an acclaimed, bestselling novel, Maupin digs deeper in adapting the story into this thought-provoking and often disturbing thriller, co-written with Anderson. It’s the perfect vehicle for Williams’ ongoing exploration of his darker side, and as a showcase for Collette’s accomplished acting skills, while 17 year-old Culkin boasts an equally commanding presence as the troubled, tragic boy.
Director Patrick Stettner (The Business Of Strangers) allows the story to unfold at a low-key pace, evoking the nocturnal musings of a late-night radio show host as he draws out the mystery without ever stretching credibility to breaking point. The script ingeniously melds fact, fiction and supposition, while giving subplot space to the breakdown of Noone’s relationship with long-term boyfriend Jess (Bobby Cannavale).
As Noone becomes ever more obsessed with his telephone friends, and sets off to meet them in person, a palpable sense of menace descends over the film, as the audience braces itselffor disappointment or worse. The overall effect may be too slow for those expecting a more traditional thriller, or reared on the satisfying cinematic resolution which real-life stories are seldom able to produce. Those willing to invest in the slow-burn plotting, intricately unfolding drama and characters who are richly detailed (and realistically flawed), however, should find The Night Listener a rewarding experience, which crawls under the skin and stays there long after the end credits have rolled.
A topical study of writers deceptions, which also explores issues of identity and the blurred lines between fantasy and reality, The Night Listener is intriguing, thought-provoking and harrowing by turns, with fine central and supporting performances and