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Tessa Thompson delivers an earnest performance for director Steve Buscemi in The Listener

Actor Steve Buscemi returns to directing feature films after spending some time behind the scenes helming episodic television series for his latest film, "The Listener," written by Alessandro Camon; the focus is on Beth (played by Tessa Thompson), a helpline volunteer who is part of a small army of volunteers who answer calls every night from people all over America who are feeling lonely, broken, or hopeless.

Over the last year, the tide has become a tsunami. As Beth goes through her shift, the stakes rise: is this the night she will lose someone? Save someone? Eventually, Beth's own story comes to light, revealing why she does it. All along, we remain with her: listening, comforting, connecting – patching the world back together, one stitch at a time.

One of the first things potential viewers about the film is the only character on screen is the alluring Tessa Thompson. Cinephiles with sharp ears notice the auditory talents of acclaimed actors such as Logan Marshall-Green, Margaret Cho, Alia Shawkat, Jamie Hector, Casey Wilson, and Rebecca Hall. The personalities of these characters include veterans with PTSD, abused women, and men struggling to get over an ex.

The success of this film's narrative is heavily dependent on the performance of its lead actor. Tessa Thompson's natural aura is indispensable for a movie like "The Listener." The lead character's voice needs to have a calming effect on the audience, notably since most of the scenes are filmed in the confines of her private residence.

The necessity for an impactful script of substantial length and limited duration underscores areas where robust writing is pivotal. In particular, Steve Buscemi's directorial role takes a backseat, focusing more on Beth, whom Thompson charmingly portrays through detailed looks and expressions. These are encapsulated in extended sequences that transition seamlessly with masterful displays of character mimicry.

The film provides sparse wiggle room for diverse camera work, and Buscemi efficiently utilizes what he has. Keeping intrusion to the barest minimum, he artfully captures those heartfelt declarations made with profound sincerity. Although it would have been simple enough to frame this as one continuous shot focused solely on Beth seated in one place, permitting her some mobility significantly enhances the overall impact of this film.

Film buffs may get the vibe that "The Listener" is trying to evoke a one-act play, so in that regard, the film won't appeal to mainstream viewers. However, those who are fans of the director and the star should give it a look.

Final Grade: B

"The Listener" releases in theaters and VOD on March 29th

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