'The Night Listener'

As a consideration of the power of storytelling—and the urge to mythologize one's own life as well as the lives of others— The Night Listener could serve as creepy paranoid cousin to the current Lady in the Water. The specters of JT LeRoy and James Frey haunt this muted psychological thriller about a radio yarn-spinner (Robin Williams, effectively underplaying) beguiled by a 14-year-old fan's lurid memoir of rape and victimization. The closer he gets to the dying boy, who's accessible only by phone, the more he starts to wonder if the kid really exists—a possibility the boy's caretaker (Toni Collette) extends as either a lifeline or a noose. Armistead Maupin helped adapt the screenplay from his novel, itself spun from a real-life anecdote involving a suspicious fan, and Patrick Stettner's stealthy film version seethes with the ambivalence of a writer who treats the people around him as straw to be spun into gold. Even when the script overstates the obvious, Stettner mines every nuance of unease from the head games between Williams and the unnerving Collette, who embodies the moment passive aggression stops being passive.

 
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