One Hour Photo Starts Slow, Finishes Strong
- Holly McClure Movie Reviewer
- Updated Aug 22, 2002
Best for: Mature adults ready for a heavy story.
The plot: "When we look through our photo albums, we're seeing a record of only the happy moments in our lives. . . . No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget." -- Sy Parrish
Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) is a lonely photo technician who's processed one-hour photos at the local SavMart for years. Sy is courteous to his co-workers, friendly to customers and loyal to his craft. But Sy has a dark-room secret. He's been obsessed with one particular family, Nina (Connie Nielsen) and Will (Michael Vartan) Yorkin and their son Jake (Dylan Smith), for nine years. In fact, Sy has photos of them all over his home. The Yorkins are the "family" Sy has always wanted, and he knows them intimately. Sy's boss begins watching him rather closely, and when reality begins to blur and Sy's picture-perfect fantasy begins to crumble, he snaps. When he's fired, Sy resorts to destructive behavior and revenge. Gary Cole plays Sy's unhappy store manager (much like his character in Office Space) and Eriq La Salle plays the detective called in to investigate his bizarre behavior.
The good: This is an intense, character-driven story dealing with a man who is so alienated from others he lives on fantasies and dreams about the Yorkin family. Williams is brilliant at portraying psychos (Insomnia, Death to Smoochy) and has honed his serious acting skills just as much as his comedic ones. He delivers a very sad and complex character with layers of life's pain and suppressed emotions masked behind a friendly demeanor. Director Mark Romanek takes time "developing" (forgive the pun) this story, layering each scene with stark white images, minimal dialogue and lots of close-up shots of Williams (as if you were looking at his photograph).
Nielsen (from Gladiator), Smith and Vartan are all effective as the helpless family who unknowingly fall victim to Sy's bizarre behavior, but it's Nielson in particular who reflects the shock and discomfort of discovering that a local photo guy knows her family's intimate secrets. This is a creepy story because it could actually happen (I dare say many of you will think about this movie the next time you take your roll of film into your local photo lab). But it's that reality that makes the buildup to the ending so effective.
We see Sy show up at Jake's soccer practice and offer him a toy. We see Sy watch Will as he shops and Nina as she has lunch at a local mall. There's a part of us that feels sorry for Sy because he's so lonely, and yet that undercurrent of evil and twisted perversion makes us fear him at the same time.
Romanek delivers a unique, emotionally layered story revealing the darker side of man's fantasy and desires. He skillfully exposes how obsession and fantasy aren't just for the mentally imbalanced like Sy. What begins as a focus on Sy's obsession and perversion ends up being the ultimate morality tale of how sin can destroy anyone.
The bad: This is one of those stories that lumbers along at first but gradually reveals what's going on in Sy's head. Some scenes are disturbing scenes, and the movie deals with painful issues. Sy breaks into the Yorkins' home, going through their things, using their toilet, watching their TV and eventually getting caught. He breaks into a room and threatens a nude couple with a knife, making them pose in pornographic positions while photographing them. Sy stalks Jake and Nina, makes a scene in his store and tells a story about a child who is abused by his parents and forced to pose and participate in pornographic situations, leading us to ultimately understand the motive for his perversion.
Offensive language: Lots of language and religious profanities.
Sexual situations and behavior: A couple kisses in what we assume is a sexual situation. Another scene shows no sex but almost full nudity as two people are forced to pose in sexual positions without actually touching each other.
Violence: A man threatens two people with a knife. A man yells and curses at Sy, berating him about his job skills.
Parental advisory: Needless to say, this is not a Robin Williams movie you want to take your child or pre-teen to! This story would bore most mature teenagers, and adults may have a hard time watching it.
It's a wrap: I didn't like this movie's slow pace until I realized it allows you to get you into Sy's mundane rhythm of life. This dark and depressing story is sometimes hard to watch, but Williams delivers a brilliant performance that is both mesmerizing and convicting. His character sort of grew on me. Ironically, Sy ends up being judged for a wicked deed that ultimately exposes the wickedness of others.