Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by 'Tales of the City' writer Armistead Maupin, the quiet, measured 'The Night Listener' is a very odd kettle of fish. Ostensibly a thriller, there's a huge amount of time and effort spent building up atmosphere and tension, nearly too much so for the eventual pay-off. 

Gabriel Noone (Williams) is the aging host of a late-night public-radio show where he shares embellished autobiographical stories with his listeners. Miserable and unable to write after his boyfriend (Cannavale) of 10 years leaves him, Gabriel develops a fascination with Pete (Culkin), a teenaged listener who has written a book about his tortured childhood. Now deathly ill as a result of prolonged sexual abuse, Pete has found sanctuary with Donna (Collette), a protective social worker who has adopted the boy. Moved to try and find Pete a publisher, Gabriel's only contact with the youngster is by means of intense long-distance phone calls but, when he starts questioning the story, contact is abruptly cut off. Gabriel flies to Wisconsin to check the story out by himself, only for the lines between truth and fiction to become even more blurred.

As much - if not more so - about Gabriel's struggles with his emotional and personal life as it is about the mystery of Pete and Donna, 'The Night Listener' is an intimate story. Director Patrick Stettner, who debuted with 2001's revenge drama 'The Business of Strangers', helms with delicacy, allowing the script - adapted by Maupin himself, with co-writer Terry Anderson - the time and space to move into deeply creepy, albeit sometimes predictable, territory. Although 'The Night Listener' may not be capable of fully bringing all its ideas to a neat conclusion, there is still enough meat on its bones to make for very satisfactory watching.

Caroline Hennessy