THE LISTENER consists of Tessa Thompson’s mental health hotline operator taking calls over night as she wanders around her home. Thompson is the only one on screen for the entire film which consists of her talking to unseen people.
A solid performance from Thompson is what keeps this film watchable. Thompson’s steady and seeming never riffled is everything. While Thompson keeps it cool, we get to see that she is moved by what she is hearing thanks to the looks, gestures and little throw away motions of her performance. It’s one that is all in the details and if you are watching closely you will end up rocked by what you see. In a better world there could be talk of an Oscar nomination in the mix, but realistically I don’t think it will happen because it's not a showy role and won’t get noticed.
The film itself is going to end up being argued over. The fact that there is no dramatic through line, just a series of differing calls is going to drive some viewers mad. Some people want high drama, and while some of the calls provide that, the fireworks (say a pervy caller or an unrepentant cop) only last as long as the call. Additionally because unless you are really watching Thompson, she is going to come across as mechanical. As much as I like the film I described the film as walking the fine line between riveting and boring. Steve Buscemi’s choices not to have Thompson react big and bold is probably closer to life but it’s going to alienate a chunk of the audience. And while I briefly thought this might make a good stage play, I really don’t think so since we need to see Thompson up close for this to work.
I like this film, but I can see some people not doing so. If you are adventurous it’s worth a look.