One Hour Photo (15)

Review by Jack Foley

AT THE start of One Hour Photo, Robin Williams’ character, Sy Parrish, candidly remarks that ‘when we look through our photo albums, we’re seeing a record of only the happy moments in our lives’; that ‘no one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget’.

It is ironic, therefore, that the picture which slowly develops in Mark Romanek’s unsettling film is far from happy; though no less unforgettable.

Sy is the lonely one hour photo processor who works at the local Savmart, largely ignored by fellow work colleagues and customers alike, who is about to play a very big part in the life of one his most treasured customers.

For Sy, a photograph is a treasured possession, a timeless snapshot of a memory to be cherished, and he takes a personal pride in ensuring that these memories are meticulously preserved for his most loyal customers, one of whom includes Connie Nielsen’s Nina Yorkin.

Nina, on the surface, is someone who has everything - she is attractive, friendly, in a loving marriage and has a terrific nine-year-old son; a life which Sy has watched develop over the years.

But when something happens which threatens to disrupt this ‘picture-perfect’ family, one which Sy has come to feel a part of, he feels obligated to prevent it, no matter what the cost to himself.

Writer/director Romanek took on One Hour Photo with the intention of making a ‘contemporary film in the mode of the ‘lonely-man’ films of the 70s’, drawing on influences such as The Conversation and Taxi Driver.

And it is credit to the acclaimed veteran of countless award-winning music videos (featuring the likes of Madonna, Beck and REM) that he pulls it off, having constructed a film which is both disturbingly compelling and morally challenging throughout.

Williams, in the title role, again shows what a terrific actor he can be when presented with the right material, and rises to the challenge of playing yet another ‘villain’ - albeit a forgivable one (unlike his turn as a child-murderer in the equally impressive Insomnia).

His performance does much to paper over the movie’s many cracks and gives viewers plenty to chew on, even when events become a little ambiguous and questions remain unanswered.

The actor, who has built a career around playing kindly, if excitable, do-gooders, trades upon this reputation to create a believably dangerous loner; someone who appears kind, gentle and even quietly spoken, but whose lonely despair constantly threatens to shatter his fragile psychology.

His life outside of work is comprised largely of snapshots of the Yorkin family (they decorate the wall of his apartment), while he openly confesses to feeling like ‘Uncle Sy’; so the revelation that something could happen to jeopardise this existence triggers a violent reaction - one which cannot be condoned but, equally, one that isn’t without sympathy.

The movie is at its strongest when dealing with Williams’ mental deterioration, yet, curiously, at its weakest, when peeking into the life of the Yorkins. Nielsen, especially, looks terrific, but her role is as superficial as the accessories which make up her home, while the likes of Gary Cole, as Sy’s bullish boss, and Eriq La Salle, as an overly caring cop, are strictly one-dimensional.

One Hour Photo is really a one-man show, albeit with some nice directorial touches that serve to heighten Sy’s plight, but one which deserves to be seen for the way in which it consistently challenges its audience. It may not be easy to watch, at times, but Williams has seldom been better and some of the issues raised (concerning stalkers and stranger-dangers) are extremely pertinent and well-observed.

Reason for two rating: Williams asks the questions following interrogation...

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