Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for disturbing images, language
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Robin Williams goes for broke as a friendless loner pushed to breaking point, and beyond.
Sy Parrish (Williams) is an anonymously cheerful photo developer at the neighborhood SavMart – a family-friendly suburban emporium catering to everyday people with conventional lives. Sy toes a fine line between fantasy and reality, and finds himself increasingly attracted to the Yorkin family, for whom he has developed an unhealthy attachment a la the relentless parade of their photos he’s developed through the years.
The Yorkins – Nina (Connie Nielsen), Will (Michael Vartan), and Jake (Dylan Smith) barely register Sy’s existence, but for a friendly hello and a “4x6 or 5x7?” detachment. Privy to the privacy that only family snapshots can reveal, Sy uncovers an unexpected domestic disturbance that could tear the Yorkins perfect world apart. Deluded into believing that the Yorkins require his support, it’s Sy the Photo Guy to the rescue.
Don’t let the trailers fool you. “One Hour Photo” is hyped as a nasty serial killer thriller, but it’s actually a finely nuanced character study of insecurity and suppressed malevolence. Sy is a festering advertisement for barely disguised rage, screened by a “Smoochy” smile and the glow of imaginary relationships. The discordant plot fundamentals are subtly introduced; so subtle as to be initially undetected. A glance, a mild disagreement, or an intimate compliment means little on its own, but abruptly adds up to a cinematic tempest.
Art direction and cinematography are masterworks. Sy’s pent-up anger, juxtaposed with sterile, orderly rows of store merchandise and the flawless laughing families of classic American snapshots, is quietly disturbing. The color-saturated cityscape coupled with Sy’s pasty perfection suggests narrative amiss. Williams is in his element – isolated and sinister overlaid with a peculiar brand of repellant charm. Oscar may come calling.