One Hour Photo

January 30th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Written & Directed by Mark Romanek.

Starring Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle.

Some casting is just wrong.

If someone had told us any time throughout the eighties and nineties (while we were watching Mork and Mindy, The World According to Garp, Mrs. Doubtfire or Aladdin) that Robin Williams could be a psychotic killer (like he was in Insomnia), we’d laugh like you’d told us the dorky English guy from Remington Steele would make a decent James Bond.

But some wrong castings couldn’t be more right.

For most of the time watching a kindly, soft spoken and deeply disturbed Robin Williams shuffle stoically across the story, you realise there hasn’t been a more engaging screen portrayal of a quiet, dangerously unhinged man since Norman Bates.

Like in Silence of the Lambs, the locations, lighting, camerawork, dialogue and interaction with his environment make up a large part of the mood. But Williams has such a masterful command over his face and body, masking a chilling maniac with a goofy, guy-at-the-photo-lab grin it’s justifiably his best performance ever.

Dressed in the antiseptic, ineffectual colours of the supermarket photo minilab where he works, Sy Parrish (Williams) is a lonely, colourless man. He’s been doing minilab work for years with studied precision, smiling at his customers and living his pleasantly drab life without his badly skewed grip on normality ever coming to the surface.

The only bizarre and chilling expression of his lost grip is the wall of his cruddy apartment wallpapered with photos of the Yorkin family after years of making extra copies of their prints for himself.

A 21st century Ed Gein waiting to happen, Sy is obsessed with the charming and beautiful Yorkins — professional father Will (Michael Vartan), gorgeous mother Nina (Connie Nielsen) and cute 9 year old Jake (Dylan Smith) — and has been for the many years he’s been developing their photos.

Having quietly stalked the Yorkins, fantasising about insinuating himself into their picture perfect life, beautiful house, happy marriage and wonderful son, things finally come to a head.

Through a bizarre twist of fate, he learns that the Yorkins aren’t as perfect as their life in pictures appears — they’re as wracked with emotions, secrets and problems as any family. However, it’s enough to tip the scales for Parrish as it destroys his illusion of them.

And when the extra, unpaid-for prints he’s been making for himself show up on a report and he loses his job over it, he snaps.

When Parrish gives in to his tortured mind and all hell breaks loose (though in a way you’ll never expect and which reveals Sy’s terrible secret), the terrifying mystique built up for so long evaporates in an instant. Williams is a fantastic Dr Crippen-style maniac but as a Fred Krueger-style maniac, he’s as scary as a packet of 2 minute noodles.

The plot isn’t without a few stumbles and strange imagery, but the look and atmosphere are clearly defined and delivered by music video director Romanek (who also wrote the script).

A fantastic supporting cast give credibility to all aspects of the story, but the star quality here shines firmly on Williams. His enormous, friendly smile is the facade of a truly screwed up man — terrifying because we have no idea until the end just what’s screwed him up or what it’s made him capable of). You’ll never look at him on screen the same way again.

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