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One Hour Photo Review

By Joe Lozito

Williams' Finest "Hour"


The thriller "One Hour Photo" goes behind the counter at one of those express Photo Labs and dissects the life of employee Seymour "Sy" Parrish (Robin Williams), a shy, unassuming man who has become obsessed with one of his clients. Sy, having developed photos at the same "Savmart" photo lab for the last 11 years, has gotten to know the regulars pretty intimately. In one of the film's slyest moments, Sy rattles off the litany of usual customers and their photographic fetishes. Sy is particularly enamored with the Yorkins. He has watched Will and Nina (Michael Vartan and Connie Nielsen) raise their young son Jake (Dylan Smith) through their family snapshots over the years.

It's nice to see Ms. Nielsen playing a normal, down-to-earth role, though her glamour and misplaced eccentricity (what's with the punk haircut in one scene?) belie her role to a degree, and Mr. Vartan is semi-believable in the ill-defined role of a guy who "owns his own company" (whatever that means). As husband and wife, they both project the needed amount of cautious camaraderie towards Sy - particularly early in the film. Mr. Smith is also effective without being overly cutesy as their young son.

However, this is Robin Williams' film from start to finish. I was so happy to see that Mr. Williams has finally discarded that knowing wink that has undercut several of his dramatic attempts - for example, see (or don't) "Jakob the Liar", "What Dreams May Come", and even the over-praised "Good Will Hunting". This is a performance closer to that of "Dead Poets Society", "Good Morning Vietnam" and even the overlooked "Insomnia". Mr. Williams' Sy is a complete character with a physicality, inner monologue and motivation that we haven't seen from Mr. Williams in a long time. And it's a pleasure to watch. In fact, the great trick of the movie is that (even in a dramatic role), Mr. Williams creates such empathy for the character that we follow him around, even when he's doing questionable things. This is a tremendous step forward for him as an actor.

In the end, however, Mr. Williams is let down by the script by Mark Romanek. Mr. Romanek (who also directed) is known for music videos for Nine Inch Nails and R.E.M. In his first feature film, he shows a great instinct for mood and atmosphere (though he sometimes goes overboard with the fascistic view of the Savmart itself). There is a degree of dread that permeates the film and the dialogue is first-rate, but the story never delivers. Mr. Romanek has a lot of good ideas (people only take pictures of the happy times; if an alien race analyzed us from our photos, they would think we always had a great time) but the story itself is (ironically) underdeveloped. The ending is a disappointing jumble that leaves Mr. Williams, and the rest of the cast, stranded.

Along the way, however, we spend some time with Sy, who may be one of Mr. Williams' most memorable characters, and we get to learn more about how those One Hour Photo places work. There's also a great moment which shows Sy stoically watching a hysterical "Simpsons" episode. I like the idea that watching "The Simpsons" and not laughing is indicative of being psychotic.

What did you think?

Movie title One Hour Photo
Release year 2002
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary An ironically underdeveloped script strands Robin Williams in one of his finest dramatic performances as a shy Photo Lab clerk who becomes obsessed with one of his clients.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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