One Hour Photo (2002)
Director: Mark Romanek
Starring: Robin Williams
Often times, the language of cinema cannot be surmised in one mode of communication. The exercise of doing so manifests both the beauty and the complexity of cinema. Many writers, far more talented than I, have attempted to convey the difficulty of critically assessing film. So, forgive me for not knowing exactly what to make of Robin Williams’ latest film, One Hour Photo. The first of three films which track Williams’ transition to a more holistic approach to acting, One Hour Photo is framed as a psychological thriller.
Williams plays Seymour Parrish (Sy), a seemingly average innocuous suburban citizen who goes to work, eats dinner, and takes the occasional trip to the mall like everyone else. Yet, after a closer look, we realize Sy is obsessed with the lives of the customers who frequent the one-hour photo he operates. Sy lives vicariously through the memories that are captured on film. The paranoia that ensues as the plot unfolds is intended to be psychologically stimulating.
In fact, it is incredibly challenging to view Robin Williams in such a vividly derogatory light. Even more multi dimensional and darker than Walter Finch, Williams’ character in Insomnia (2002), Sy forces the viewer to accept his actions not as a result of circumstance or misfortune, but rather as premeditating calculating deeds. The hinge that balances One Hour Photo between suspense and disbelief implicitly requires that one can empathize with Sy. As the film attempts to draw one in, the viewer cannot connect with the Sy because Williams gets in the way. His celebrity presence is simply too big for the role, just as Gene Hackman would have been if he had attempted to play Harry Caul (The Conversation) too late in his career. Consequently, as a body of work, One Hour Photo suffers. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t deter anyone from seeing One Hour Photo, as the film is both entertaining and quite frightening, as Williams embodies characteristics foreign to his cinematic fabric. The director keeps a few surprises until end-just keep an open mind.