One Hour Photo (2002)
Director: Mark Romanek
Eriq La Salle/Det. James
Sy (Williams) is an incredibly lonely one-hour photo lab employee with a bad hair cut. His weak social life constitutes of obsessing over a young suburban family through the rolls of films which they bring to be developed at his lab. He’s so into their sexy groove that he has doubles of their pics made for himself and slaps them up on a wall in his pad! But when neurotic Sy’s overly simple world crumbles, he crosses that invisible line and goes from neurotic to psychotic. We all go a little mad sometimes.
I went into "One Hour Photo" wanting to love it, while hoping to get past one massive personal hurdle which was the presence of Robin Williams. I’ve just never been a big fan of the duder. Thankfully as the film unraveled, I was astounded to find myself forgetting about the actor behind the role and getting imbued by the character that was Sy. That meant two things: 1) It was a stand-out performance by Williams 2) I have to give it up for the lad right now. Good work bubba! This double Scotch is for you.
Much like "Taxi Driver", One Hour Photo successfully manages to convey the total sense of isolation and loneliness in which this one man is dwelling. You think you got it rough...well, this poor sap is at the bottom of the damn beer keg. I actually felt lonely watching him be lonely! DAMN! Every aspect of this film is there to amplify the web of extreme solitude in which this neurotic fellow is stuck. The dream-like monochrome set designs, the surreal lighting motifs, the striking moments of symbolism and the stylish camera movements all contributed to that. I’ve heard some moviegoers label this film a “thriller”, but don’t be mislead even though its last block has a few jolts of adrenaline pumped into it, for the most part, it's basically a deliberately slow paced character study. How does Sy relate to others? What does Sy dream of? What will set Sy off? That’s what the film wants to address; there’s no excessive thrills or "dumb slut" butchering in this nut house.
The situations in which Sy put himself did provide for some sporadic moments of unease though. His scenes with the little boy, for example, or his exchanges with the wife (Nielsen); basically I’d wiggle in my seat like Rodney King on PCP every time he’d get together with any member of the family. We also got a couple of creepy images slapped our way for good measure. If it wasn’t the disturbingly vast wall of pictures that Sy collected giving me the chills, it was the slight cerebral toying or that damn dream sequence boo scare (got me “good” there too!). I also really dug the thought-provoking comments which occasionally popped up, either through the narration or the images. I particularly savored the quips on “family pictures” in general and why we take them. I had never thought about it that way. Thank you Romanek for giving me an all new perspective on one aspect of my so-called life (I love taking pictures of, especially of lesbian midgets).
On the downside, once the credits started to roll, I had a couple of beefs to pick with the flick. One big qualm was how it handled its family unit. Although pleasant to the eye (Nielsen IS the perfect looking wife...I want one!) they were solely there to act as pawns to complement Sy’s game. I wasn’t too hip to that jive since the family and their issues genuinely interested me. But alas, the drama between the couple is clumsily handled and Will (Vartan), in particular, came across as embarrassingly one dimensional. Is there more to this guy than trendy wear and a 6 o'clock shadow?
Another big flaw is the payoff. Giving Sy a motive for his behavior felt like an unnecessary, throwaway convention. Did they go through the “cliché” drawer and pick one out at random? That “explanation” led to one awkward confrontation sequence and a verbal exchange that cheapened what was to that point, a classy, more ambiguous type of movie. Why did they have to go that way? I was perfectly happy with me making up my own mind as I went along in regards to Sy. I mean, that’s what the movie was doing for an hour and half! It wasn’t judging him and basically leaving it up to my grey matter. By giving me a left field concrete reason as to why he is how he is, the film forced me to make up my mind about the dude and that pissed me off. The picture was so much more powerful when it didn’t lead me by the nose like a poodle. Bummer…
But looking back, "One Hour Photo" was still an engaging look at one man in a world of hurt that managed to keep my interest and my heart on the screen up until its last 15 minutes kicked in. It was artsy, gorgeously shot, competently acted and mucho atmospheric. For the most part, it avoided the pitfalls most “mainstream” genre films offer and I appreciated that a lot. Say "cheese!" cause life sucks!
Apart from exploding red eyeballs (you’ll see) we get squat. The film is not about the red stuff.
Robin Williams (Sey) plays its low key and it’s the way to go. Where he bored me in "Insomnia" with a similar approach, here it worked because the role was well written to begin with. Connie Nielsen (Nina) is awesome eye candy and delivers a very natural performance. They should’ve given her more to do though. Michael Vartan (Will) relies on his looks and great clothes to act, but it’s not his fault, the part is weakly written. Eriq La Salle (Det. James) gives a very composed and endearing performance. I managed to care more about him within his short screen time than I did for Vartan who was more of a lead player. Go figure.
T & A
We see a naked chick posing on pictures and unless you count Vartan’s ass as rise inducing, there isn’t much here to stir your pot. I’ll stick to Connie Nielsen’s lips, thank you very much.
Romanek is from the Kubrick school of directing. He likes to play with subtlety, slow and steady camera movements and stylish shot compositions. He also has strengths in building momentum and giving common surroundings an otherworldly feel. A grade-A job behind the camera.
The score is very strong, perfectly supporting the gripping images and often adding an extra emotional layer to the scenes in question.
They say that the first thing you remember walking out of a movie is its ending. Since the finale of this flick let me down, my first instinct was to give this film a 2 ½. But having now put my thoughts about it on paper, I remember how visually arresting, surprisingly low-key, wonderfully acted, cleverly insightful and sometimes actually quite sad, the film was. Yes, it loses its footing during its conclusion but the rock solid hour and a half that preceded it made up for it...kind of (I’m still angry about it though). I can’t wait for this one to come out on DVD. I’ll watch it back to back with "Taxi Driver", get beyond depressed and then drink myself into a tumbling mass of dead weight. One is the loneliest number indeed. You gotta love the movies!
Mark Romanek also wrote One Hour Photo.