I don't think anybody dropping off their family photos at the local developer will feel the same after seeing this film.
Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) is the senior photo lab technician at the local Sav-Mart. A loner by nature, Sy longs for a day when he can have a family all to himself. He wants to be accepted, meeting this need through the thousands of photographs he handles every day. But one family, Nina (Connie Nielsen, "Gladiator") and Will (Michael Vartan, "Never Been Kissed") Yorkin, along with their nine year-old son Jake (Dylan Smith), stimulates him more than any other. After handling their photo needs for the last 11 years, Sy has imagined himself a part of their family. But now that his vision is beginning to boil over, Sy slowly and meticulously begins to make a play for the real thing, and the Yorkins don't have a say in the matter.
"One Hour Photo" (IMDb listing) is the new film from Mark Romanek. A music video maestro behind many Nine Inch Nails productions, Romanek steps up to the big time with this feature (another Romanek film from 1985, "Static," has gone virtually unseen), and the results are often staggering. A gifted visualist, Romanek submerses the viewer into the world of "One Hour Photo." From the Ikea-drenched Yorkin household, to the chillingly white mass-consumerism-prison of the Sav-Mart superstore, and the sparse hell of Sy's meticulously arranged one bedroom apartment, Romanek makes every color, sound, shot and line count. Unlike his MTV brethren, Romanek is a filmmaker with a visionvision that doesn't need its tracks to be covered with fast cuts and a pop music soundtrack. "One Hour Photo" is spare, assiduously made, and ruthless in its pursuit of tension. And up until the final moments, the film had a power over me that I long for from any production. I was drawn into "One Hour Photo" wholeheartedly, and, for about 80 minutes, every new sequence in the film is better than the one that comes before it.
While Romanek is a stunning filmmaker, he does have Robin Williams to help him out with the creepiness factor. Williams, going one step further than his similar role in this summer's "Insomnia," takes Sy and makes him a living, breathing stalker. There is a psychotic, yet humane pulse behind Williams' eyes that I haven't seen from the actor before, making Sy not only a demon, but a demon that you feel a little sorry for. For those that whined about the syrup of "Patch Adams," take a trip to the cuckoo’s nest with Sy and tell me again how you feel about the ragingly talented Williams.
It is the ending of "One Hour Photo" that I have a problem with. Not that it isn't disturbing, but more that it isn't disturbing enough. Romanek does such a masterful job steering this movie that the climax doesn't feel quite like the twist of the knife that it should be, but more like a tire that's gone flat. He even throws in a little "Psycho" type denouement to explain some of the madness behind Sy's action. It takes away some of the sting, but the budding brilliance that resides all around this truly remarkable film remains.
Filmfodder Grade: A-