Monday, September 18, 2006

THE NIGHT LISTENER - an eighty minute thriller that's still too long

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?THE NIGHT LISTENER attempts to be a sinister thriller but the spookiest thing about it are the opening credits, with hints of human limbs in the delicate unfolding of the kaleidoscope above the titles. The premise is captivating: a famous novelist broadcasts short stories to the nation that tell of his real-life romance with his HIV positive lover. When the lover leaves him, his stories dry up. Then, his publisher gives him a breath-taking first novel by a fourteen year-old boy. The novel is an autobiography that tells of sexual abuse. A telephone relationship develops between the boy, his adoptive mother and the author, but the author's lover suspects that the boy and his mother are one and the same.

The first twenty minutes of the movie are densely packed and well-written. All this information - and more - is conveyed to the viewer. We are hooked on the mystery - and excited by the themes: where is the line between fantasy and reality for the author and the people he encounters? And, despite being based on an old short story by Amistead Maupin, the movie is also rather topical given the recent scandals in the US involving authors fictionalising their own supposed autobiographies. But the movie peters off - it entirely fails to expound on the themes or give us the requisite spooky jolts necessary for this genre. I couldn't help but think that within this slender film (just 80 minutes long) there is an absolutely cracking half hour "Tales of the Unexpected" TV episode waiting to come out. Moreover, the movie features a wonderfully light, giggle-inducing performance from Sandra Oh, and a tremendous performance from Robin Williams as the author. He truly cuts his cloth to suit the character - there is no manic comedy but seeming-genuine heart-break and bewilderment. It is a shame that such a performance should be wasted on such inconsequential material. Another disappointment is the rare fact of a mediocre performance from Toni Colette.

THE NIGHT LISTENER played Sundance and Berlin 2006. It is currently on release in Canada, the US, Israel and the UK. It opens in Singapore on September 28th and in Turkey on October 8th.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree that Williams' performance was wasted in this slow and (towards the end) boring film.