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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "One Hour Photo"


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Robin Williams as Sy Parrish
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One Hour Photo is a thriller where Robin Williams plays a psycho with a conscience. It's a nicely paced, intelligent suspense film, where its qualities lie with its aesthetics: pace, soundtrack, and dramatic elements. This is not a movie that relies on surprise, shock, or intrigue.

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Robin Williams plays a Photo Lab Technician
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The plot revolves around Robin Williams' character, Sy Parrish, a lonely and introverted photo lab technician at a SavMart convenience store. He lives his life vicariously through the photos of the regulars who drop off their film to be processed. One of his quips in a long series of narratives interjected throughout the movie, reminds us that, "people take pictures of happy times in their lives. No one ever takes a picture of something they want to forget." The happier he perceives other people, the more he withdraws from his own life and seeks to be a part of theirs. But it's a special family, the Yorkins - a mother, father and son—that he most strongly bonds to over the past nine years. He fantasizes that he is their "Uncle Sy", and in his mind, they treat him as such. As his emotional stability becomes increasingly unbalanced, he finally snaps when he discovers a secret that could tear apart the family.

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Robin Williams
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What carries the film is the character profiles and excellent visual qualities. The characters reflect their environment: cold, stark, and generically plain. Physical spaces are large, vast areas of empty isles, huge rooms, fluourescently lit sterile environments - just like the people. In a sense, nothingness. Yet, there is a lot underneath. And this is where the film's lesser quality comes in.

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Check Your Smile
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The characters lack is a sense of depth. Psychotics are more interesting when we know their history - we don't know anything about Sy's past, and the notion that he has none takes away more than it adds. There are other conflicts that go untested, which also leaves a sense of incompleteness. (We don't need "resolution", just a sense that an issue is addressed.) For all the empty vastness of the movie that symbolizes Sy's profile, it's a perfect time to add a tiny drop of black paint on a vast white canvas: show something that gives us history. Many of Sy's pivotal plot-turning acts are done more for symbolic effect rather than to guide the plot along, and are therefore left with question-marks over the audience's collective head. Why would he do certain things? He's supposed to be cold and calculating, but some of his actions are anything but.

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Last Photo in the Camera
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One Hour Photo is almost more of an artsy film than a mainstream one, and in that genre, these concerns really needn't be addressed to satisfy its target audience. In the end, I loved the film, and all its qualities, despite my desire for more character development.

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The Yorkins
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This is Robin Williams' third film of 2002, all of which feature him as a psychotic. But it's this role that is probably the most dramatic and believable. What makes it even better is that you almost forget it's him soon after the movie begins. For an actor as easily type-cast as Williams, this marks a notable step forward in the breadth of his work.

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Mark Romanek
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The movie was written and directed by Mark Romanek, most known for music videos; most prominently, Madonna's 1999 video collection. This is his first film, unless you want to count his indie-effort, Static, in 1985, which didn't get very much attention. In One Hour Photo, Romanek uses techniques very reminiscent of Stanley Kubrik - with the ultra-wide-angle symmetry shots, long, quiet scenes, and dramatic pauses between lines to achieve a sense of suspense and psychological drama.

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