U.S. Release Date: August 21, 2002
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: Mark Romanek
Writer: Mark Romanek
Cast: Robin Williams, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Clark Gregg
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (sexual content and language)

Say Cheese!
by Billy Reeves

One of many unnerving issues raised in One Hour Photo is whether or not photos properly depict and preserve the history of our lives. Robin Williams narrates in a haunting voice that most family photos only show happy moments, that anyone looking through our photo albums might come to the conclusion that we had lived a "leisurely existence free from tragedy." "Nobody ever takes a picture of something they want to forget," he says. Blend that kind of disturbing analysis with a bone-chilling score, and Mark Romanek's psychological masterpiece is apt to leave you unsettled and afraid.

Sy Parrish (Williams) is the friendly clerk at SavMart's photo finishing department. A veteran of 11 years, he has become extremely familiar with his frequent customers—a little too familiar. In the case of the Yorkins, he's developed their film from the beginning, experiencing the most intimate details of their lives through their photos. Fueled by his estranged existence and his morbid obsession with them, he psychologically inserts himself into the family. In his mind he's "Uncle Sy."

Sy's emotions become linked to the family. He feels a desperate attraction to the mother Nina (Connie Nielsen), but not a sexual one. He is infatuated with her perfect life, and her perfect family. He watches her son Jake's (Dylan Smith) soccer practice like a brooding stalker and tries to make small talk with Nina's husband Will (Michael Vartan) while in the store. But his delusions are shattered when he becomes aware of something Will has done that is destructive to his family, and his congenial nature begins to turn more dark and vengeful.

The only thing that allows Sy to cling to his sanity is his job. He perceives it as an art form, one that he takes very seriously. While the camera explores the insides of his film processor, he labels it as "a musical instrument." (The shot looks like something out of a David Fincher film. Not surprisingly, the cinematographer is Jeff Cronenweth of Fight Club.)

Sy's compulsive attention to detail and his need to provide the highest quality photos possible ultimately consume him. How far will a man go if you take away his only reason for clinging to reality? That's the question that makes this movie terrifying, and its answer is in the hands of SavMart manager Bill Owens (Gary Cole). And Cole is just as unlikable here as his role as the jerky boss in Office Space.

The cinematography captures the mood almost better than the score. Everything associated with Sy is pale and empty. Just looking at the lactescent SavMart or the uninhabited appearance of Sy's apartment is enough to make you feel hollow inside. The hundreds of pictures of the Yorkins on his wall are the only things that brighten up his drab existence.

Williams brings this role to life in a way I never could have imagined. Quite frankly he gives me the creeps. Sure, I just saw him earlier this summer in Insomnia, where he played another role antithetical to his usual lovable clown. But that wasn't enough preparation for the brand of raving psychotic captured in this movie. Neither was his portrayal of a vengeful maniac in Death to Smoochy. Sy is more subtle, a character that leaves you unsure of what to make of him. Do you fear him, loathe him or pity him?

You may remember Nielsen as Lucilla in Gladiator. She captures Nina perfectly as the co-dependent and insecure housewife. She takes a liking to Sy and has a certain pity for him. In one of the only warm moments in the movie, Nina and Jake send Sy happy thoughts because Jake tells her that he feels sympathy for Sy, who has no friends.

The biting reality displayed by One Hour Photo is its scariest message. Sy isn't a depraved transsexual who wants to make a coat from your skin. He's just the quiet man who develops your film. He's real, he's obsessed, and he knows where you live.

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