Volume 96, Issue 11
Tuesday September 17, 2002

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MOVIE REVIEW: One Hour Photo

A nice psycho?

One Hour Photo
Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Eriq La Salle
Directed by: Mark Romanek

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) is a photo developer at the local Sav-Mart department store. He gets along well with customers, wears a smile, always has a joke for the kids and seems no different than your average retail employee; he is "Sy The Photo Guy."

When it comes to mental health, however, he is a few snapshots short of an album, and that is where One Hour Photo begins its examination of this disturbed, yet sympathetic character.

It is obvious from the beginning of the film that Sy has an unusual amount of pride in his work, getting into arguments with the photo machine repairman to correct a minor flaw in the colour balance. Sy also orders an extra set of prints for himself whenever Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen) drops off photos of herself, her husband and their young son.

Since he has been developing the Yorkins' photos since they moved to town, Sy has had access to all of their happiest moments and considers himself a part of the family. He attempts to deepen his friendship with them, until he discovers that their life is not as perfect as it seems. From there... well, you can't spell "psycho" without "Sy."

There is probably more than a little of Sy's personality (well, except for the insane part) in writer/director Mark Romanek, a former fashion photographer who is best known for his music video work with Nine Inch Nails, Janet Jackson and Madonna.

Like Sy, Romanek is well aware of the impact visual images can have in creating perception. The setting of the Sav-Mart is shot in a way that accentuates the cold sterility of the store and makes Sy seem isolated even when he's doing what he loves the most.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth usually shoots darker-hued films (Fight Club, K-19: The Widowmaker), but here he brightens the colours within every frame to such an extent that they look unnatural. Each individual shot of One Hour looks like it could stand on its own as a still photo.

There is no hint of the charismatic Williams we all know and love, as he is submerged completely under Sy's lonely and awkward exterior.

Despite the demented actions of his character, however, Williams makes the audience feel some degree of sympathy for Sy, making him not evil, but a victim of a terrible event in his past that made him unable to deal with others in a meaningful way.

There has already been talk of a possible Oscar nomination for Williams' performance, especially since this is the kind of "nice guy actor plays a villain" role (e.g. Denzel Washington in Training Day) which usually gets rewarded.

The first time we see Sy, he is sitting by himself in a completely white room talking to a police detective (Eriq La Salle). The audience, therefore, knows from the very beginning of the film that Sy's story will not end well, and the white background indicates that One Hour Photo is more like a Polaroid than the standard roll of film.

We have a general idea about what is slowly developing and we gradually see more and more until every detail is finally revealed in the end.

Along the way, there are enough disturbing images to make you wonder about the smiling face behind the counter the next time you pick up your vacation photos. Digital cameras are getting less expensive, you know.


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