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One Hour Photo

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: One Hour Photo

Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen
Director: Mark Romanek
Rated: R
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: August 2002
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq LaSalle, Dylan Smith, Erin Daniels

Review by Jerry Saravia
3½ stars out of 4

Loners like Seymour Parrish are fascinating because they lead such insular lives. They are not necessarily rejects of society nor are they deviants in the strictest sense. They want to belong but simply do not know how, thus alienating themselves from everyone in the process. In "One Hour Photo," Seymour Parrish is one loner who wants to belong to a family, and starts to develops an attachment to one.

Seymour ("Sy") Parrish (Robin Williams) works at a one hour photoshop in a department store not unlike Walmart, here called SavMart. He is a fine employee and always looks to give the customers the finest prints he can make, despite problems with maintenance who know next to nothing of the finer details of photo processing. Sy is committed to his job and knows his customers well. There is one customer he is fond of, perhaps a little too fond of. The customer is Nina (Connie Nielsen), who always wears black leather and lives with her aloof husband, Will (Michael Vartan), an architect, and their young son, Jake (Dylan Smith), who plays violent video games. Nina's existence is one of comfort despite having a husband who is never there for her or her son. Sy knows nothing of their marital problems - he just knows the pictures he has printed of them for years. They seem like a happy family and Sy wants to be one of them, often imagining himself as Uncle Sy. He has also made extra prints of their pictures and, in one truly eerie scene, he has collectively pasted all their prints on one wall space in his living room.

Sy does not live a charming existence. He works in a photo shop that seems sterile and bland at best. His home is grayish and completely devoid of color. He watches "The Simpsons" on television and never flashes a smile. This man has no pleasures in his life. But by getting close to Nina at his workplace, he looks for details. She reads the spiritual lessons of Deepak Chopra and finds himself reading it as well. In one scene that sums up the character's insularity crossed with populated public places, Sy seats himself at a fast-food restaurant in a mall where Nina happens to be. Needless to say, Nina is surprised at Sy's interest in Deepak Chopra. We may also be surprised that perhaps Sy never goes to eateries at the mall because there are so many people - he seems more comfortable alone or talking to Nina. Sy even tries to buy Nina's son a warrior action figure but he refuses to accept it. Will considers the "photo guy" a "stranger" and is alarmed by his appearance. But eventually Sy discovers a secret involving Will that he uses to his advantage. Of course, this also opens the doors to Sy's lack of reality about families in general. Sy is now at a boiling point and we are not sure what he will do his next. Even his firm boss (Gary Cole) is driving him crazy.

"One Hour Photo" is directed by music-video director Mark Romaneck, but don't let his background turn you off. He does not bombard the screen with flash cuts and fancy editing tricks but rather cools off the dramatics in favor of a Kubrickian mode - sets, lighting and color play more substantial roles than camera moves. The gray colors inside the photo mart, the malls, and Sy's apartment make us feel queasy. This is not just Sy's insular existence but his own state-of-mind, and some of it may remind us that malls are not exactly bursting with color and imagination - they look just as dull and placid as Sy's apartment. Mostly "One Hour Photo" is not in-your-face. Like Robin Williams's performance, it is subdued and this factors in how creepy the film is. At times, it is nearly unwatchable. Anytime Sy talks with Nina or her family, we feel we are on edge, unsure of what he may say or do.

Robin Williams, fresh from a quietly menacing turn in "Insomnia," makes Sy compassionate and harmless yet still threatening. His own search for a perfect family and the flaws he finds shows how unrealistic his expectations are. He reminds me of Jerry, the psychopathic, smiling stepdad in "The Stepfather," who also craved the perfect family and basically went berzerk when they did not fulfill his promise. Sy is not as prone to such murderous tendencies as Jerry was, but his insularity and his needs prove to be as explosive and surprising. It is one of Williams' most powerful roles in a long time, far more reserved than usual. If Williams did this to wipe out the thick sentiment of "What Dreams May Come" and other post-"Patch Adams" oddities, he has succeeded admirably.

"One Hour Photo" never veers into familiar thriller cliches, nor does Sy Parrish prove to be some one-dimensional monster in need of psychiatric help. I could have lived without the flashback structure, however, and would have liked more emphasis on Nina - the fact that she calls her husband neglectful is only skimming the surface of her troubled family. Taking visual cues from "The King of Comedy" and "The Conversation," Romaneck still finds a way to make"One Hour Photo" grate our nerves. We want Sy to belong to a family, and we would like to him to be happy. Sy wants all the familial trappings that life has to offer - in short, the American Dream. He just has a creepy way of showing it.

Copyright 2002 Jerry Saravia

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