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Sy (Robin Williams) is the fastidious one hour photo man at the Savmart where Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen) has always taken her young family’s snaps to be developed. To Sy, the Yorkins – mum, young Jake (Dylan Smith) and his dad Will (Michael Vartan) - are the perfect happy family . . . and the total antithesis of his. Sy is in fact a loner with a deep seated problem that becomes an obsession fed by the Yorkins and when he develops photos that threaten the happy marriage, Sy becomes a powderkeg waiting to explode. And he doesn’t wait long

Review by Louise Keller:
With its menu design emulating a photo processing form and images of Robin Williams zooming to and fro slowly, the set up is rife for a chilling couple of hours. Even though we have seen Robin Williams in dramatic roles before, it almost comes as a surprise to hear his restrained commentary that is devoid of the usual quips and jokes that have become synonymous with his name. The commentary between writer director Mark Romanek and Williams is informative, but it’s listening to Williams that comes as such a surprise. He explains that one of the main factors that drew him to the role, was the fact that Sy is his total antithesis. Although he admits there is a part of him that can be drab, this is a character that is very different to what people expect.

Noone ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget, he says in his introduction to the Cinemax featurette, and how through the photographs he can become associated with someone’s life. We hear from everyone concerned in the movie here as well as in the Sundance: Anatomy of a Scene. There is an additional feature in which Charlie Rose talks to Romanek and Williams about the film. That when we catch a glimpse of the funny Robin Williams.

With its outstanding minimalist production design and dischorded edgy score, One Hour Photo grapples with obsessive loneliness and fear, when the borders between reality and fantasy blur. Photographs represent the milestones of our lives, and include those precious moments that we want to lock into our memories forever. It may be simplistic to say that it’s only the happy moments that are recorded through the lens, but we don’t intentionally photograph the things we want to forget. And it’s true that photos alone paint a less-than-realistic rosy picture of our lives. In any event, how much we want to reveal of our lives to a perfect stranger, is quite another matter. Especially those private and often intimate moments stored in precious photo albums. 

This is a story about a man who has no life of his own, but lives his life through other people’s lives. There’s the woman who only photographs her cats, and the insurance assessor with photos of dented cars. The new parents, the amateur porn photographer… we get a glimpse of all their lives. But Sy’s total obsession is with the perfect happy family, and very early in the film, we see the fine line between caring service and nosey intrusion being crossed. At home, he cuts a lonely figure sitting in an armchair watching The Simpsons on tv. This (and the wall of photos) is as close as he gets to having a family. 

When the illusion of the happy family is shattered, like the broken windscreen of his car, Sy snaps. Robin William is absolutely haunting as Sy. It’s a wonderfully subtle performance, where the tense, thin-lipped smile and nervous flickering of the eyes act as indicators to a character who doesn’t have anywhere to go. He is always alone – even in a crowd, and the scenes when Sy walks down the supermarket aisles amid all the packets of breakfast cereal boxes and groceries just seem to accentuate his isolation. Connie Nielsen is terrific as Nina and Michael Vartan is well cast as the philandering husband. I really like Eriq La Salle’s compassionate police officer who says little, but shows a lot. The tension builds gradually and I can feel the unease in the pit of my stomach, while the score pounds like my heartbeat. As the film draws to a climax, tensions are at a screaming pitch and I can still feel the chill of shocks reverberating through my body. I love the ending and the final shot, offering plenty to think about when the credits have rolled. Gripping and mesmerizing, One Hour Photo is a top, riveting thriller; you may never feel the same again about leaving your film to be processed.

Published September 11, 2003

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CAST: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle

DIRECTOR: Mark Romanek

SCRIPT: Mark Romanek

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Mark Romanek, Robin Williams; Featurette, Charlie Rose Show; Sundance: Anatomy of a Scene

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: (rental) May 14, 2003; (retail) September 10, 2003

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