ONE HOUR PHOTO
Review by Michael Jacobson
Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle
Director: Mark Romanek
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20the Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: February 18, 2003
pictures have anything to say, it's this: I was here, I existed. I was young and
happy and someone cared enough about me to take my picture.”
rarely in my years of film criticism wanted to talk so much about a movie, yet
felt obligated to say so little. One
Hour Photo is the kind of picture that demands it.
To do otherwise could rob the pleasure some might have in seeing it for
the first time with fresh eyes. For
those of you who haven’t seen it yet, my advice is to see it quickly, and
plunge right in. Skip the trailer and extras until later.
And if you have a friend or a co-worker who wants to tell you about this
film at the water cooler, politely excuse yourself from the conversation until
after you’ve seen it yourself. Then
you’ll have plenty to talk about.
have to begin by addressing the performance of Robin Williams, for which there
simply aren’t enough suitable adjectives in the thesaurus.
He’s done some terrific work in the past, but here, for the first time,
he completely disappears into the role of photo tech Sy Parrish.
Think of it as a payoff on the promise he made in Insomnia.
Sy Parrish is the absolute antithesis of Williams; whereas Williams
is funny, energetic, and normally very external as an actor (using his face,
body and voice to great effect), Sy is a completely internalized character.
He’s often still and quiet, and the camera lingers on his face for long
moments contemplating the gears turning behind his eyeballs.
is one of the lonely and forgotten men. He
runs the photo counter at SavMart, which looks like a bigger and more sterile
version of one of those giant chain discount department stores we all know so
well. People drop off their film
and leave, then come pick up and leave again. Nobody gives the man doing the work a second
thought…intriguing, considering they entrust their most precious memories, and
sometimes most private occurrences to him.
an introverted loner, Sy tends to fantasize on the job…not about women, money,
or power, but simply belonging. His
favorite family is the Yorkins, a seemingly perfect and happy suburban couple
with a nice house and wonderful life. He
has developed their photos for 11 years, and even watched their son Jake as he
grew up. In a strange way, he loves
and cares about them more than they could realize, or be comfortable with.
Sy himself admits at one point that a photo record is often an illusion.
“We only record the happy moments in our lives,” he muses.
But he doesn’t translate that to the Yorkins, who indeed have problems
as bad or worse than any he could imagine.
Having his picture perfect image of them shattered?
Who knows what kind of results that could produce in a mind as fragile as
walks a fine line between being creepy and being heartbreaking…he manages a
good amount of both. We spend a lot
of time with him, and think about him more than any of the people in his own
life, yet writer/director Mark Romanek constantly surprises us with his well
timed revelations. In other words,
we never doubt that he’s a little unbalanced, but we’re occasionally
dumbfounded in moments where we see just how deep the proverbial rabbit hole
mentioned nothing of the storyline so far…and that’s where I want to keep
it. I don’t even want to hint at
what happens and what it leads to. As
mentioned, this film kept surprising me around every corner.
I’d have to be some kind of Grinch to steal that away from other fresh
instead, I’ll end where I started: Robin
Williams is simply astounding in the best work of his long career.
It takes less than one minute from the time you first see him to
completely forget about him. Robin Williams does not show up in Sy. And Sy is the most perfectly realized, complex, and difficult
character he’s ever had to portray. Everything
about him is internalized. In his
mind, he aggressive, but in body, he’s passive…a tough combination.
And unlike Williams, who normally attracts all the attention in a room,
Sy is almost invisible at times, with his clothes, freakish blond hair and
mannerisms letting him almost absorb into his environment like a chameleon.
And a chameleon makes itself disappear only to lure in the unsuspecting.
Given the main character’s obsession with perfect colors and images, I
can easily imagine Sy Parrish himself lovingly pouring himself over this DVD
transfer (I of course don’t mean to imply anything about the personalities of
the individuals who DID oversee this presentation. ;-))
This is simple a colorful, vivid, and remarkably detailed offering that
comes across well in any scheme, be it the harsh white lights of the SavMart,
the monochromatic realms of Sy’s existence, or even the extreme displays that
express the director’s imagination for his character.
This is one of the early year’s best offerings.
may not expect much from the audio to a film based on a photo tech, but guess
again…this is a tremendous 5.1 soundtrack.
The sounds are very important to this movie…a lot of times, simple ones
like shutters clicking or flashbulbs popping are exaggerated and fill all
corners of your living room, making Sy’s own little world seem larger than
life. It’s hard to describe, but
you’ll appreciate it when you hear it. Dialogue
is well rendered throughout, and overall, the soundtrack is crisp, clean, and
dynamic, with wonderful musical cues to boot.
terrific features package accompanies the film, starting with a terrific team
commentary track by writer/director Mark Romanek and star Robin Williams.
It’s a very detailed and informative listen.
Williams makes a joke here and there, but ultimately, he’s still
treating the material with respect and thoughtfulness.
I enjoyed it tremendously.
are two featurettes: a less
detailed making-of one from Cinemax is outdone by the better Sundance Channel
“Anatomy of a Scene” special…again, this is the kind of picture where
you’ll appreciate the thoughts that went into it.
Rounding out is a trailer and TV spots that include this and other Fox
releases. The simple animated menu
screens are also a nice touch.