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Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan Smith, Andrew A Rolfes

Directed by: Mark Romanek
Written by: Mark Romanek
Produced by: Christine Vachon, Pam Koffler, Stan Wlodkowski, Pamela Koffler
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

US: 21/08/02 UK: 04/10/02

Creepy middle-aged manager of a photo-printing lab (Williams) harbours a secret fantasy. Having developed the pictures of the Yorkin clan, a model American family with their two kids, for years, he has begun to see himself as part of it: "Uncle" Sy, who buys toys for the kids and awaits their homecoming while sitting on the couch. Eventually the fantasy begins to blur with reality, and Sy's projection into the Yorkins' life prompts a demand for order and harmony that leads inexorably to disaster.
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Robin Williams checks the whole creepy Photo Nazi look he's got down to a T

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This is a truly disturbing and scary movie. I guarantee you'll be thinking about this smart, contained flick long after your exposure to the bloated pretensions of movies like Red Dragon and Signs have faded to indifference.

Not least because you think you know how it's all going to end, but by the end you have been led through a creepy, frightening maze to some sort of understanding of the meaning of familial love. And that's nothing like you thought.

Robin Williams carries the movie with a remarkable performance of supreme blankness. His blonde haired, pasty skinned persona is made more eerie by the harsh sterile lighting that pervades his work environment. Seymour "Sy" Parrish has worked at a one hour photo shop at a downtown Mall for twelve years. He seems the perfect retail attendant - quiet, helpful, unflappable, and obsessed with the minutia of his job. He's the forgettable guy you spend five minutes with as he takes your order. He's the guy you later tell reporters and police "Sy did that. No way. He seemed so nice and easy going!"

He's also totally emotionally detached and looks like the Photo Nazi. This feeling is reinforced when it's slowly revealed he has become fixated on what he assumes to be the perfect yuppie family: the Yorkins. Sy has been processing their family snaps since they were married, He has watched their happy family develop. He feels part of their family. He sees himself as an uncle to eight year old Jake. His life is another family's Kodak moments.

The problem is - people only take family snaps of the good times. And when the rather talented writer/director Mark Romanek pulls a David Lynch to reveal the rotting corpse of the good life, Sy's emotional balance spins out of control.

The Yorkins are a fraud family by Sy's idealized definition. Yet he has created a whole life invested in them - so when that crumbles he has no place to go except to put the Sy into Psycho.

Yet 'One Hour Photo' is a lot smarter than your average deranged nutjob flick. For spoiler reasons which I will not reveal, we gradually become invested in the character so superbly created by Robin Williams. We feel for Sy - and not because of some plot device. Romanek's maze like screenplay allows us to gradually understand Sy's character. In a climactic final scene with Eriq La Salle's equally soft-spoken police detective, you finally see the whole picture. And it's not a pretty sight.

You'll also be unnerved by how much of your life is revealed to other people. Your name, address, phone number - and your dirty little secrets are not as anonymous as you think. Don't miss this.

One of the most effective and atmospheric thrillers this year, first-timer Romanek calls upon the ghosts of Kubrick and Hitchcock to create something that gets far under our skin. It centres on Sy (Williams), the photo guy at the local Sav-Mart who takes a very personal interest in one family whose pictures he has been processing for years. Well, it's hardly surprising since he's a lonely single man with no family of his own, while the Yorkins are young, good-looking and successful. But Sy takes things a bit too far, papering a wall in his flat with family pics and giving young Jake (Smith) free merchandise for his birthday (as if to say, "Would you like some candy, little boy?"). Then on a very bad day in the shop he discovers that Jake's dad (Vartan) is having an affair. So he quietly lets Mrs Yorkin (Nielsen) know, then takes matters into his own hands.

Romanek gets much of his style from Kubrick--white-on-white sets, stark composition, minimalist music, internalised performances. And it works wonderfully, drawing us in with the chilling familiarity of it all, but still capturing an emotional resonance that doesn't let Sy become merely a standard movie villain. Williams gauges the performance perfectly, starting out as a kind of Forrest Gump character but getting deeper and richer as the plot turns until we are both terrified of him and worried for him. There's a fine line here, and he somehow manages to stay right on it, which is where Hitchcock and, most notably, Psycho come in. Meanwhile, Romanek also gets under the surface of this handsome suburban family, while examining the importance of photographs in our collective memories and experiences. This is extremely clever, subtle filmmaking that resonates on several levels and provides a fresh, 21st century twist on the Fatal Attraction theme. Is Sy a moral crusader, a defending angel or a crazed psychopath? Brilliant!


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