Review: One Hour Photo

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

With One Hour Photo, Robin Williams completes his trifecta of dark films. The first two of course being March’s ‘Death to Smoochy,’ and May’s ‘Insomnia.’ While accolades rightfully go to Robin Williams for playing such a menacing character so effectively, it is the movie itself that is the real winner.

My opinion on One Hour Photo has swayed back and forth several times. I suppose my original feelings might have been biased considering this was the first R rated movie I have ever snuck into. Thus, right after viewing, it was very difficult to decipher between the adrenalin from the movie, and the adrenalin coursing through my veins from sneaking into the R movie. In the end, the movie beat out the sneaking in rush. (It should be noted that I intend on sneaking into more R movie now, wow, I guess being bad really is like smack!)

I am sure we have all dropped film off at a Rite Aid, or another local photo processing place without giving it a single thought that the person you just paid to develop those photos was judging you, and studying your life. (And if you did, I’ll bet you are kicking yourself for not getting that idea on paper). Sy Parrish is just such a man. He is a mild mannered, kind hearted, yet lonely photo developer at the local Wal-Mart type store. He is a totally normal man, except for one thing, he has a startling obsession with the Yorkin’s, regular customers. He holds this family in such high regard, he longs to be “Uncle Sy.” This “perfect family” that he idolizes, and which I am sure originally drove him to obsession with them. However, when something happens to the family that shows Sy they aren’t perfect, he has a meltdown which leads to serious crime to keep his fantasy and obsession alive.

Mark Romenack who both wrote and directed this motion picture was brilliant in his view of Parrish’s obsession. They camera work and music score wasn’t particularly hyped to accentuate “he is sick.” Instead we are intrigued by this man’s fascination, which is due to the unpretentious look at Sy’s obsession.

When viewing One Hour Photo, one might think that the camera is simply peering into a key hole, which on the other side of the door, is this story. When the script chooses not to use silly plot elements, One Hour Photo shimmers. We neither learn why Sy is obsessed with this family, or really what makes him tick. We get to simply observe this ever-fascinating character and not be plagued by clunky “events.” This is a welcome treat to the string of movies that show us beginning to end of a “madman“ and then analyze it down for us like we are 5 year olds.

I also truly enjoyed the brisk pace of One Hour Photo. It moved along at such a speed that it kept interest, and gave the movie a fable-like quality. Being only 95 minutes, One Hour Photo allows for a different aspect of this type of film. The brisk pace allows, surprisingly, allows for a far deeper feeling radiated from the film.

One Hour Photo has been advertised as a thriller, which it is to a point. The film uses clever voice-overs by Robin Williams to create a sense of tense atmosphere, for example, one voice over explains how the word “snapshot” was originally a hunting term. Like I have previously hinted upon, when the plot decides to use silly plot elements, the film turns into farce and seemingly breaks its own precedent of taking a straight look at this man. The worst of these was incorporating Sy’s fantasies (which we believe are real until we are shown that the scene was in fact, a fantasy) to create suspense because the end of the film is very confusing do to this. The film also incorporated a dream sequence, that is more hilarious than effective, and I still have no idea why it is in the film. We are supposed to be analyzing the film, not the dreams contained within the film!

Mark Romanek should be commended for his ability to keep the film on a straight path. Unlike Red Dragon, which wandered in and out of relationships, both sexual and not, One Hour Photo is able to stay on track with the single plot. This also contributes to the brisk feeling of the film.

The final scene of One Hour Photo involving a showdown between Will Yorkin and Sy is effective in getting its point across as to what Sy is trying to accomplish, unfortunately, this scene is quite and sexual, and the stone dialogue seems better fitted for a porno film, not this piece of cinema. While on the topic of endings, the actual last scene is terribly confusing. One can draw many conclusions from it. That is what I like about the film. With this film, I was forced to think, and not given the answers at the end or at any other time during the film. Just like studying in school, the easy way may seem better in the short term, but in the long run, actually doing it yourself is more effective. Thus with movies and the complicatedness of their plots.

Also interesting was the director’s use of color. The way it felt was that when Sy was by himself, everything around him was white and sterile. While when he interacted with the Yorkin’s, everything was lush and multi-hued. I loved how the store Sy Parrish is employed at is all white, blue, and teal. Not a single other color to be found. Also following this model is Sy’s apartment, which is stark white, except for should I say...”Yorkin Hall of Fame.”

It seems silly to even elaborate on the acting of One Hour Photo after this abundance of praise has been bestowed upon Robin Williams. While he is the obvious stand out, and his performance is fantastic, there is another supporting role stand out which deserves mention: Connie Nielsen. The beautiful actress who plays Nina Yorkin. She is strikingly effective as the matriarch of the family and as a woman who experience a variety of emotions.

One Hour Photo is a ride of a movie that you have never experience and will likely never experience again. While at times, it can be uneven, the end result is pure bliss.

© 2002 Jake Sproul

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