Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan
Smith, Andrew A Rolfes
by: Mark Romanek
Written by: Mark Romanek
Produced by: Christine Vachon, Pam Koffler, Stan Wlodkowski,
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
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
Williams checks the whole creepy Photo Nazi look he's
got down to a T
WILLIAM'S STUPENDOUS PERFORMANCE PUTS THE SY INTO PSYCHO
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
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
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
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
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!