At the Movies with Alan Gekko: One Hour Photo

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Stars: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle, Clark Gregg, Paul H. Kim, Erin Daniels/ Runtime: 96 minutes

I feel it is safe to say that, on the surface, One Hour Photo might appear to be your typical psychological thriller, but I think then that you’ll be in for a surprise should you decide to give this a watch. Of course I can definitely understand how you might have thought to the contrary. Indeed given just what exactly this film is about, it could have with horrific ease found itself really sinking into the muck and becoming a slimy saga of both compulsiveness and insanity. Instead however, the film’s director chooses to utilize a much more low-key manner of doing things and manages to craft a movie that manages to undercut the possible violence that could come from this material while also showcasing the surprising humanity that is within the unnerving figure at the center of this chilling ride. Indeed this film’s director wisely comprehends that sometimes the most horrific perils to both our well-being and our daily lives more often than not actually come from the vague people who we don’t notice every day, and whose expressionless faces and fixed smiles often show no hint of the possible lack of sanity, horrific evil and the terrifying possibility that they could harm us that might exist just on a level just deep enough for us not to see until it is too late. Thus it is with that concept in mind, along with a game cast headed by a truly iconic Robin Williams performance that One Hour Photo becomes a sneakily clever movie that works as both a chilling thriller, but also as a very fascinating analysis of a disturbed mind.

The plot is as follows: One Hour Photo casts its chilling spotlight on a man by the name of Seymour “Sy” Parrish. Sy is an seemingly innocent yet not exactly the most skilled in terms of social skills and interacting with people wimpy-kinda guy who occupies his time during the day dutifully toiling away as a photo developer in an absolutely immaculate drug store, and his nights all alone in his dull apartment fixating on a massive shrine of sorts that he has made out of extra copies of photos he has developed for a family of three known as the Yorkins. A family whose pictures Sy has been developing, and unbeknownst to them, obsessing over for more than seven years now. Thus we soon see that not only is Sy becoming terrifyingly fixated on this particular family, but also developing an extremely psychologically unhealthy hope that he could in some way become an important part of their family. Then a day comes about in which Sy comes to the deranged conclusion that he simply isn’t satisfied with being merely an imaginary member of this horrifically unaware family. Thus he decides to enact a plan that will see him slowly but surely ingratiate himself into their lives on a more direct level with absolutely terrifying results and thus a nightmare is unleashed…..

Now in his dual-tiered role behind the camera as both this film’s main writer as well as its director, I feel that Mr. Max Romanek does a phenomenal job of ensuring that we as an audience are constantly in an atmosphere of hard to place anxiety and unease through the duration of the film’s 96 minute runtime. Indeed we as audiences are left on the edge of our seats waiting for something absolutely terrible and horrific to happen yet the director makes the intelligent and bold choice not to go for the cliché turn of events or a predictable thrilling moment. Rather thanks to the work done by the writer-director as well as subtle yet also iconic turn by Robin Williams, we actually and quite surprisingly begin to actually comprehend a degree of just why exactly this odd-ball individual is the way that he is. Indeed we begin to comprehend just how crucial his immersive in equal measure his isolation as well as his feeling of social anxiety really truly have come to be such crucial concepts in understanding both why he acts the way he does as well as who he is to begin with. Indeed he may be terrifying, but he is by the same token also quite deplorable. Plus he may also have gone psychologically unhinged, but his insanity is based in an absolutely huge sense of immersive isolation as well as not really being able to fill his life with both a spouse and a family of his own. Yet even when his character is both psychotic and delusional to the max, credit must be given to both Romanek and Williams for still enabling us as an audience for still finding a way to care about this guy.

Speaking of the late great talent that is Mr. Robin Williams, I feel that one thing that a lot of people didn’t really know when it came to this true genius with a heart of gold was the fact that even though he did a lot of wonderful work in the realm of comedy, he was also dynamite in the right dramatic role as well. Suffice it to say this is a skill that is definitely showcased in this film. Indeed Robin Williams’ turn in this as Sy is not only a tour de force role, but it’s also an eerie, unnerving, yet also multi-layered showcase of an individual with more than his fair share of issues. Yet what stands out the most to me with regard to Williams’ performance in this film is the back-and-forth in his head not only about how sane he really is, but also about just what exactly his motivation for all of this truly is. Indeed while it is quite obvious from the get-go that he is stricken with a pretty significant degree of some kind of mental disturbance, this film’s conclusion still leaves me pondering a little bit about just what the proverbial method behind the insanity truly is and if it’s this guy who is unwell or if instead it’s the world around him. Plus in a weird and oddball way Sy actually reminded me to a degree of Travis Bickle the mentally unhinged main character from Taxi Driver. Indeed, much in the same way that Bickle tried to be the deliverer of Iris from her life as a teenage escort, Sy wants to deliver himself from his doldrum existence and places himself in an idyllic world that is entirely the opposite of what he goes through day after day. The key difference between the two being that Sy wants to remain in his fantasy. This is because Sy is a severely scarred individual who has withdrawn into how ordinary he is and finds he is happiest in life when he is living in his delusions rather than having to face the stark and depressing reality of his existence and Williams manages to capture all of that in a performance that is absolutely phenomenal.

The supporting cast also all do phenomenal work of their own backing up Williams. Indeed as the parenting team behind the family that is the focus of Sy’s deranged obsession, Nielsen and Vartan do a terrific job at playing a couple who, through Sy and his actions, find themselves really starting to wonder if they are really compatible anymore or if the only reason that they are still together is for the sake of their son. We also get wonderful smaller roles from Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle, and Clark Gregg in the pivotal roles of Sy’s exasperated boss and a pair of cops who get called in when things get…..worse shall we say respectively. Yet even though they all don’t get nearly as much screen time as Williams doss, everyone still manages to make the time that they are given work as effectively as possible.

All in all I think it is safe to say that One Hour Photo, even with repeated viewings, is a disturbing, visually interesting, and powerfully acted chiller that actually, for once, gave me something unique to think and then write about for once for the end of a review. That would be the fact that even though what Sy does in this film is quite creepy, the fact is that it’s even more eerie to think about how at one time locations like Walgreens and Wal-Mart actually had booths like the one in this film, and just how unnervingly easy it was for those employees to get access to people’s photographs. With that said however: I guess the point I’m making is that at one time we as people were extremely protective with the pictures we took to the point that we were willing to wait an hour max to get them developed before then only showing them to a select few people during our lives. Yet flash forward to now and we have abandoned that sense of security so we can put pictures on the computer whenever we want and placing them where everyone and their mother can see them. It really just makes me wonder when was our sense of privacy most at risk: then….or now? On a scale of 1-5 I give One Hour Photo a solid 3.5 out of 5.