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‘THE LISTENER’ Movie Review: A Heartfelt, Captivatingly Performed Tribute to an Underappreciated Group of Heroes

In recent years, there have been some excellent films that rely almost exclusively on the lead actor’s ability to engage the audience through telephone or earpiece conversations. Highlights include Matt Vessely’s Monolith, Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried and Gustav Möller’s The Guilty – all tightly focused narratives driven by the storytelling and listening talents of the lead actors. By contrast, Steve Buscemi‘s latest film, The Listener, covers much broader ground. Through nuanced storytelling and Tessa Thompson‘s perfectly balanced performance, which captures the emotional complexity of the role, the film offers an intimate look at the struggles and rewards of a demanding crisis support job. In doing so, it shines a light on an under-appreciated yet vital service that provides critical assistance to those in need.

Thompson portrays Beth, a phone helpline worker who offers guidance to troubled strangers during her lonely night shifts. Isolated at home with only her dog Coltrane for company since the pandemic hit, Beth engages in intimate conversations where anonymous callers divulge their deepest troubles. As we get glimpses of Beth’s own struggles, a pivotal call arrives that compels her to break protocol and disclose personal details to help a brilliant yet tormented caller.

Though the calls seem completely random at first, Thompson’s calm yet reassuring presence keeps viewers engaged as she fields a range of callers – from polite, distressing, eye-opening to downright rude. The increasingly taxing calls highlight her steadfast commitment to offering comfort and hope amid people’s darkest moments, despite her clearly having her own struggles to wrestle with.

Also some callers talk to Beth but hang up abruptly before any resolution, leaving her – and the audience – hanging, unsure if her advice helped or worsened things. Through Thompson’s captivatingly expressive performance, the audience is constantly aware of the immense emotional toll this uncertainty exacts on Beth as the night wears on.

The sentiment is further explored in a longer scene featuring a recently unemployed professor, voiced by the always impeccacle Rebecca Hall. Their initial light-hearted conversation develops into a thoughtful discussion about discovering one’s purpose in life and the professor’s probing questions strike a nerve in Beth, especially when describing how unhappiness can gradually take hold. This revealing exchange helps viewers realize that Beth too yearns for connection. Her troubled past motivates her to find purpose by becoming a pillar of support for others in their darkest moments.

Curiously, Beth ultimately finds healing by going against protocol, opening up about her struggles which in turn benefits both the caller and herself. This serves as a powerful lesson – expressing ourselves and listening to each other with empathy is what unites us – an uplifting moral that we could all benefit from given the current state of affairs.

Ultimately, Buscemi pays a heartfelt tribute to an underappreciated group of heroes, portraying them with empathy and respect rather than glorification or sensationalism. Through the film’s compassionate perspective and Thompson’s evocative performance, The Listener delivers a poignant, authentic depiction that pays due credit to the selfless, sympathetic heroes who provide the invaluable gift of listening to those who need it most.

VERDICT:

The Listener will receive a day and date theatrical and VOD release this March 29, 2024.

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