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.
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 sonthat 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.