One Hour Photo

Just like in One Hour Photo, The dark side of our natural emotional makeup if handled properly can be far more deadly than any monster the screen has ever shown

It is easy to scare an audience with monsters, creatures of power and size that overwhelm us. It takes real talent to frighten the audience with human nature itself. The dark side of our natural emotional makeup if handled properly can be far more deadly than any monster the screen has ever shown. Alfred Hitchcock was the undisputed master of this methodology but there are some that would be heir apparent to his lofty throne.

Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo is the latest contender and more than meets the challenge. Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) is a clerk in one of those many, identical photo booths that populate malls across this country. To look at him you would only see a pleasant, cheerful man that takes your film and gives you your photos an hour later. He is one of the many people we see on a regular basis but only see as part of the storefront they serve. Of course we are nice to such people but unlike times past where you knew the merchants they are scenery. This is how Nina and Will Yorkin (Michael Vartan, Connie Nielsen) viewed Sy, the nice man at the photo booth. Unfortunately for him the expression ‘still waters run deep’ comes to a sinister fruition. Sy is obsessed with the Yorkin family. Since is real life is devoid of human relationships he has made the Yorkins a surrogate family of his own. Life outside the photo booth is kept apart from human interaction; his home is almost as sterile as an operating room. The only signs of personal contact are the many pictures of the Yorkins Sy has posted. We have all seen the photo shrines used in many movies to depict the obsession the antagonist has but here the photos are so casually placed, so natural in their environment that building horror comes from the outward appearance that nothing is amiss.

Here is the strength of One Hour Photo that terror can come from the banal and everyday. In the current climate here in America we never think about it but the person that has access to your photos knows perhaps too much about your life. When Sy gives Nina photos of Will with his mistress he is exhibiting a control over these people that we never would assume such a mousy person would have. Like the Yorkins most of us go through our day unaware that so many people that we anonymously deal with are potentially dangerous. In One Hour Photo it is not the hidden terrorist cell that we have to worry about but rather that nice little man that works at the one hour photo booth. It is the familiarity of the situation that generates the fright here, not the creature from the depths of space.

Like many people I have been a long time fan of the comedy of Robin Williams. His kinetic form of physical comedy and social commentary is a wonder to watch. His latest DVD of his stand up routine is evidence to this and shows he still has it when it comes to entertaining a crowd. But there is another side to this performer, one that is a surprise to many. He can act. When Williams won the Oscar for his touching role in ‘Good Will Hunting’ I was shocked until I reviewed his performance. Now Williams is creating a niche for himself in Hollywood as the master of subtle fright. His performance in One Hour Photo is hot on the heels of his work in ‘Insomnia’ opposite fellow Oscar winners Al Pacino and Hillary Swank. Like his presentation of the smiling killer in Insomnia his portrayal of Sy shows Williams has the depth and range to give an emotional performance that gets under the skin of the audience and into our minds. He demonstrates the same commitment to his acting that he gives to his comedy and we as the viewers are the ones that benefit. The rest of the cast is really delegated to supporting roles here. Nielsen is beautiful window dressing, much like here role in Gladiator. The same goes with Vartan. While their performances are very good they are in the shadow of Williams throughout One Hour Photo. Vartan and Nielson do allow the audience to closely identify with the Yorkins. It is the everyday nature of their performance that makes it work. We have to be able to see our selves in their place. If their performance was too contrived it would have distanced us from their characters.

Mark Romanek’s direction here is very well crafted. This is really a freshman effort for the director. Netter known for his work in music videos he has directed Madonna, No Doubt and numerous other end energy performers. Here, hew trades the kinetic, frantic pace of the video for a film that builds in its momentum drawing the audience into its web. In some ways he seems influenced by films like ‘American Beauty’, where Sy is a darker more proactive version of Lester. He presents the disenfranchised American dreamer in a manner that will keep your attention at all times. Romanek has a real eye for lighting. The harsh fluorescent humming in the background adds a sense of familiarity to ground us. The framing of each shot is as close to perfect as possible. Another demonstration of his talent is in the fact that he also wrote the screenplay for One Hour Photo. The writing is tight and well constructed. I greatly look forward to his next opus. This is a writer/director to watch in an age of hacks turning out mindless films.

Fox has done an excellent job with the mastering of the One Hour Photo DVD. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is typically free of edge distortion and artifacts. The transition between dark and light is well handled; the color palette while not spectacular gets the job done. The Dolby 5.1 audio provides a full, rich sound field that makes good use of the six speakers. Among the extras there is a well done commentary featuring the director and cast. There is also a Charlie Rose interview with Williams and an Anatomy of a Scene feature. In all One Hour Photo is a keeper and worthy of a place in any serious collection.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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