Robin Williams stars in Patrick Stettner's The Night Listener, an atmospheric, measured thriller that never really delivers on its intriguing thematic issues.
It's based on co-writer Armistead Maupin's experiences with Williams playing late night Big Apple radio talk show host Gabriel Noone. Noone has a way about letting his listeners into his personal life.
Noone's long-time partner, acted by Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent, Shall We Dance?) is breaking up with him. His agent (Joe Morton) wants him to read something by a 14-year-old boy (Rory Culkin), a survivor of much sexual abuse from his parents.
Gabriel talks to the boy at length and his guardian, played by Toni Collette, part of the winsome eccentricities of Little Miss Sunshine. However, something doesn't seem right to him so a trip to Wisconsin is in order. And, that leads to some turns that hardly anyone would anticipate.
This fairly subdued drama appears to have the mood set where it should be in the examination of the struggling of a middle-aged man past his prime. Yet, the script, as also collaborated on by Stettner (The Business of Strangers) and Terry Anderson, doesn't allow Williams to come across more than a rookie sleuth.
What is fascinating, as Stettner showed with Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles in the aforementioned Strangers, is the power of conversation which allows for much viewer curiosity. One wishes Cannavale had a more substantial part, though he definitely makes the most of it. Sandra Oh (riding high on the small screen's "Grey's Anatomy") lends support as a character trying to get Gabriel on the right track, but Collette is most persuasive in a role that exudes an ominous vulnerability.
The production is rather alluring from the lensing to the sleek production designs. Those knowing of J.T. Leroy will make the connection of how motivated the story is from dependence. Yet the seriousness of it all, including AIDS, doesn't prove revelatory. Thus, The Night Listener, in its classy approach to be a memorable, if disturbing mystery simmers in a bland, soulless way without purpose to writer Maupin's probable gut-wrenching existence.