THE NIGHT LISTENER (2006)
HH SATURDAY ROBIN WILLIAMS TRIBUTE.
“What is our verse to write?”–John Keating.
River Phoenix, John Belushi (Robin Williams was one of the last people to have seen John alive), Heath Ledger, David Carradine, & now Robin Williams himself; all too young, all wrestling demons unseen, all successful, famous, adored by legions of fans–& yet, they lived some kind of nightmare where inner peace was supposed to reside. So on Monday, on a dog day in August, Robin waited for his wife to go shopping & then released those demons, let them tear him to pieces.
Millions have wept, are still weeping–why, why, why? I had a college friend who leaped off a freeway overpass into busy traffic, surviving, according to witnesses, long enough to be aware of the first of three vehicles that ran over him–and he must have been looking for the answer to that question as well.
Williams, nominated for an Oscar 4 times, finally won one for GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997), missing snatching the golden ring for GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987), DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989), & THE FISHER KING (1991). He won 6 Golden Globes & was nominated 12 times. He won 2 Emmys, was nominated 8 times. In all, Awards-wise, he won 55 of them, was nominated 67 times.
As much as I loved his talent, I always felt he needed to be reigned in by a strong director, for when he wasn’t, his ad-libs & riffs would/could derail the film, the plot, the experience; when forced to act within the parameters of a good part, he could be/was brilliant. Julliard trained, like many great comedians, (Jack Lemmon, Jackie Gleason among others) he understood that “Dying is easy–comedy is hard.”, that all good comedy deals with fear, ours & theirs.
Bacchus requested that we turn HH onto its head a bit, and pick some of Robin Williams Sci-Fi & Crime films to review as a tribute to this genius, this one-of-a-kind performer, as a kind of loving, heartfelt eulogy of sorts. I applaud the Boss for his compassionate clear-headed sentimentality.
Robin Williams was quoted a lot; having had a lot to say. A couple of those quotes resonate with me.
Cocaine is God’s way of saying that you make too much money.
They’re talking about partial nuclear disarmament, which is like talking about partial circumcision–you either go all the way or forget it.
See, the problem is, God gave man both a brain & a penis, & only enough blood to use one at a time.
You are only given one little spark of madness–& you mustn’t lose it.
THE NIGHT LISTENER (2006)
Directed by Patrick Stettner @ 91 minutes.
Written by Armistead Maupin & Terry Anderson.
It was based on Maupin 2000 Best Seller, & the plot was based on “actual events” in the author’s life.
Taglines: You never know who is listening.
Listen For the Truth.
The budget, a real Indie venture, was only 4 million, & domestically it grossed about 7.8 Million–kind of small potatoes compared to many of the horror films we have reviewed. It was filmed in NYC, & Newark, NJ.
Patrick Stettner, a Columbia Film Arts graduate, has only directed 4 films since 1996, FLUX (Short) 1996, THE BUSINESS OF STRANGER (2001) & one TV directing job this year. THE NIGHT LISTENER (2006) received poor reviews, & this seemed to affect his career path.
C A S T
Robin Williams as Gabriel Noone.
Toni Collette as Donna Logand.
Rory Culkin as Pete Logand.
Joe Morton as Ashe.
Bobby Cannavale as Jess.
Sandra Oh as Anna.
The music was done by Peter Nashel, who has written 34 film scores since 2001, including THE DEEP END (2002), BEE SEASON (2005), NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU (2008), & DEEP POWER (2013).
The cinematography was done by Liza Rinzler, who has lensed 56 films since 1982, including GUNCRAZY (1992), MENACE II SOCIETY (1993), DEAD PRESIDENTS (1995), TREE LOUNGE (1999), POLLOCK (2000), & DRUM (2004).
Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a popular gay NYC radio show host: NOONE AT NIGHT. His roommate of 8 years, Jess, has healed up from AIDS, & now that he is no longer dying, has moved out to taste life in the fullest; for Gabriel had been writing his “stories” read on the air all about Jess & his recovery, and now he is feeling both frisky & claustrophobic.
Noone is just devastated by the loss of his younger partner.
His agent gives him the manuscript of a book he is considering published, written about a 14 year old boy named Pete Logand, dealing with a nightmarish childhood in which his parents began sexually molesting him at 7 years old, then bringing in “others” to share in the fun. Pete was forced to wear a blindfold so that he could not recognize any of his abusers, while they were making porno tapes. He had syphilis at 11 & AIDS by 12.
The boy had become a tremendous Gabriel Noone fan. He had been adopted by the social worker, Donna Logand, who had handled the case–& had moved to a small town in Wisconsin to keep the family from finding him.
Gabriel began a telephone relationship with Pete & Donna, & he became increasingly close to young Pete, like a father-son situation. We meet Pete on film, played by Rory Culkin, which helps us establish the “reality” of the scenario.
Jess is over at Gabe’s one day when Donna called, & Jess talked to her & Pete. Stunned, he pointed out that he thought Donna & Pete were the same voice; thus the same person. This really upsets Gabe, of course.
His secretary, Anna, agrees with Jess. Finally planting the bug of doubt in Gabe, he tries on-line to check them out; but no such persons seem to exist. Anna talks about a particular mental condition that causes people starving for attention to fabricate such a situation.
Gabriel talks his agent out of publishing the book, until he can find out for sure, the truth of the matter.
He has several letters from Pete, with an address in Montgomery, Wisconsin. Soon he is on a plane bound for there, both excited & depressed as his adventure begins. In his rental car he finds the address to be a convenience store with P.O. boxes.
Soon after, from the motel window, he sees a large star on a nearby water tower, something that Pete had talked about. He investigates, but before he could ask around, one of the homeowner’s dogs frightened him, and chased him off.
A day later, while having a meal at a local diner, he hears Donna’s voice talking to the waitress. Then he sees a copy of the same picture he was sent of Pete, on the Diner’s bulletin board. To his surprise, Donna is blind, and uses a guide dog on a regular leash (which implies that she was only legally blind, & not totally blind, or she would have been using a dog guide harness. I worked with the blind for 30 years, so I spot discrepancies quickly.)
He follows her home, which is near the water tower, & at her door, she turns to him there on the sidewalk & says, “Aren’t you going to come in, Gabriel.” He accepts her invitation. She makes him tea, & explains that the store clerk alerted her to his presence, & that Pete was in the hospital. She agreed to let Gabe see Pete the next day. (Her blue eyes seemed cloudy with cataracts, though she talked about falling down some stairs as a child; more bogus data.) Her hair was brunette, and several other times in the film it was either blond or redheaded.
He goes upstairs & finds Pete’s room, the walls covered with clippings & posters about NOONE AT NIGHT, &/or Gabriel. Then she makes a pass at him, which he is put off over, which infuriates her. She begins screaming that he is responsible for the book not being published, that he broke Pete’s heart, there is no way she would allow him to meet Pete now, & that he needs to get the fuck out of their lives.
Angry himself, & suspicious, he goes to nearby Madison, & checks out all of the city’s hospitals; of course, he cannot find Pete. Back in his motel, he kept getting phone calls but no one talked, just heavy breathing. Finally Gabe goes back to the Logand house.
Looking in the window, for no one is answering the door, he sees that all the belongings are packed up in boxes. Frustrated, he breaks a back window, & checks the house out. Pete’s room is empty too. The police arrive & he is arrested as a burglar, or worse. On the way to the police station, after inquiring about Pete, the cop pulls over in an empty field, & assaults Gabe with a stun baton, assuming he was one of the sexual predators from Pete’s past.
Gabriel is able to prove who he really is, & the police believe him, now being willing to check the veracity of her story; something everyone in town had believed. After leaving the police station, Gabe finds Donna & her dog waiting for him, telling him that Pete had been in a hospital in Milwaukee, not Madison–that she wanted him to know that Pete had died the night before. Donna collapses in grief in the middle of the street, just as a large truck is barreling down on her. Noone tries to help her up, but she holds him down, hoping the truck will kill both of them. Gabe pulls her out of harm’s way, calls her “fucking crazy”, & leaves her there screaming his name.
Noone returns to NYC. The police find the Logand home completely empty; Donna & her dog have completely disappeared. Having a dinner party with some of his friends in his apartment, Donna calls him, telling her she is at a local motel, on route to the airport, gives him a room number, says she has something for him. He responds to the overture, arriving at the motel, just as she, now a poroxide blond in a fur coat, is leaving the room. He steps into the shadows. She stops near him, looking directly at him from behind her dark sunglasses, smiles, & leaves.
Inside the room, Gabe finds Pete’s Velveteen Rabbit, & a video tape. There is a VCR in the room, so he plays the tape. We see Pete, (Rory Culkin) lying on a bed; he sits up & smiles at the camera. The phone rings; it’s Pete, saying he is not really dead, that Donna was just trying to protect him; that he is waiting for her at the airport. Gabe asked if anything “bad” had happened to Donna as a child. “I gotta go”, Pete said in Donna’s voice.
During the epilogue, we see Donna, no longer the blind lady, renting a condo by the sea, telling the agent she needed it for herself & her sick son, who had lost his legs in a horrific accident.
Last line in the movie, as Gabriel has told this story on his radio show: “As for Pete, there’s a line in THE VELVETEEN RABBIT that reads–real is not how you were made–it’s just the thing that happened to you.”
ROTTEN TOMATOES gave it a 40% Critic’s Approval, with a 35% Audience Approval.
Michael Phillips of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE wrote: “The pacing & staging of the later scenes could have used a little more electricity & momentum–yet this movie does keep you watching & listening.”
Richard Roeper of EBERT & ROEPER wrote: “This was a quietly disturbing & effectively haunting little gem.”
Keith Phipps of the AV CLUB wrote: “Williams delivers a twinkle-free performance, but the film as a whole can’t decide what it wants to be.”
David Nusair of REEL FILM REVIEWS wrote: “It effectively captures the essence of the novel without slavishly adhering to its every nuance.”
David Hughes of EMPIRE MAGAZINE wrote: “The NIGHT LISTENER is intriguing, thought-provoking & harrowing by turns, with fine central & supporting performances & a richly satisfying feel.”
Some actors believe in Indie Cinema; Robin Williams was one of those actors. 2006
was a very busy year for him, one of his most intense. Besides THE NIGHT LISTENER, he also worked on/completed RV (2006), MAN OF THE YEAR (2006), HAPPY FEET (2006), & NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (2006). As a bankable super-star, he could get millions of dollars for appearing in any film; case in point he received a reported 20 million bucks for starring in BICENTENNIAL MAN (1999). In stark contrast, his salary was chump change on THE NIGHT LISTENER, a mere 65K.
Though heterosexual, he could portray gay characters with such convincing enthusiasm, like in THE BIRDCAGE (1996), some fans really wondered about his sexual preferences. Just another reminder of what a wonderful actor Robin Williams was. Interestingly, Rory Culkin & Robin share the same birthday.
I like the musical score a lot; it was rich & interesting, just spooky enough when it had to be. The cinematography by Lisa Rinzler was also a big plus for the film. The writing in the film was excellent. Armistead Maupin & Terry Anderson, homosexual partners in real life, before they broke up, both mixed their story, with a real event that happened to Maupin with an imaginary 14 year old boy.
The acting was excellent. Williams gave a lot of depth & heart to Gabriel Noone. Toni Collette, per usual was brilliant. Bobby Cannavale gave a very touching performance in his brief scenes. On the HH rating scale of 10 stars, I would rate this film at 8 stars; fuck those critics who wanted more action, gore, & sexuality. It was much more a psychological thriller that mixed in the pitfalls we all have when our heart is touched. It ranks in the middle of all William’s best performances.