Have I been in outer space for a while, or was this tight little film just under-reviewed? I'd never heard of it, and picked it out on a whim with no clue what to expect. I'm not exactly president of the Robin Williams' fan club, and knowing that Armistead `Tales of the City' Maupin had written the source novel I kind of expected some heart-warming melting pot story with guys in chaps and moustaches... But nothing could be further from the truth, I'm happy to say. Foregoing his usual hamming, Williams barely seems to be acting at all here. As Gabriel Noone he's a middle-aged writer and radio star, desperately lonely after his long-time boyfriend walks out on him. Along comes child abuse survivor, Pete, to fill the void - a teenager wise beyond his years and author of a shocking exposé, `The Blacking Factory'. A tentative father/son relationship begins to develop. But, needless to say, all is not what it seems.
Don't be expecting The Sixth Sense. Yes, Toni Colette's in this as well (she's fantastic as Pete's 'new mom'). But if you go to the Night Listener waiting to `guess the twist' you'll be sorely disappointed. It's not about that. In fact, quite the opposite - it pretty much wears the `twist' on its sleeve for most of the film, and therein lies the beauty. It's not about `what', or `who' - it's `why' that matters. Whether it's the tight camera angles or the muted colour schemes or some other directorial trick of the trade, there's just something indefinably creepy about this film. It's a mood piece, big on atmosphere, that manages to say plenty about the human condition without a split second of sentimentality.
One quibble, though - it's over too quickly. At roughly 80 minutes, I'm guessing this is a cut version. The book - which I've just started reading - makes quite a feature of Pete and Gabriel's phone conversations, and losing so much of that from the film takes meat off the bones and leaves it feeling just the tiniest bit insubstantial.