Cinema Signal:

Photofinishing Techniques and Equipment

. "One Hour Photo"

This is a performance film, wherein we have an actor get deeply into a character, exploring his fixations, his needs, his behavior. The actor, here, is Robin Williams going against type and, when he does, he delivers his finest work. And in the behavior department we have a thriller that revolves around what his obsessed character's acting out might produce in the way of threat to an unsuspecting family.

It's just a simple department store, like any other Wal-Mart or the like and Seymour Parrish (Williams) is the devoted photo finishing technician who has been running the department for a long time. Sy ("the photo guy" to his customers and employers) is a lonely man with little life out from behind the counters and processing machines. What life he has is in his fixation on a family that have been customers for many years -- years in which he's followed their play, their holidays, their 9-year old son's growing up. This takes the words, "living vicariously" to the level of creepiness.

It's his ploy to feel like he belongs... to someone... to attractive, vibrant individuals for whom he's developed not only their photos but a feeling of kinship. He's... well... an uncle to attractive mother Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), father Will (Michael Vartan) and young son Jakob, (Dylan Smith). How he brings them close to his own spare life is by filling a wall with their pictures -- extra prints he has made through the years without charging them or himself.

Thinking the small periodic deficit between the machines' counter and the receipts in his cash register will be too small to lead to discovery, Sy enjoys this bit of petty thievery until it grows to an inescapable amount and his luck runs out. But not before a role of film is turned in that shakes his world more than being fired from his job. It causes him to take some actions that can be considered mental enough to turn life in one kind of institution into life in an even more isolated one.

Williams has no trouble conveying straight-laced containment, a by-the-books technician straddling a mental edge that could go into the realm of psychotic at any moment. He has reserve and spookiness to spare as he plods in his zone of comfort while discomforting us compellingly.

Sparkling in the cast for her sheer believability is an actress who should be a household name, but isn't: Connie Nielsen. Without a trace of excess, her moments of joy and protective tenderness turning into the deepest anxieties and fears of a mother are nothing but convincing. Beautiful as she is, she is that suburban mother and we live her anguish through her. No less a performance though a starkly different setting from the last times we saw her in "Mission to Mars" and "Gladiator".

Gary Cole as Sy's boss at the store is spot on as the hateful-even-when-he's-right jerk of a manager whose concern for the bottom line exhausts any interest in the human side of the personnel. His portayal will provide an extra kick of recognition for everyone who works or has worked in a large department store. Erin Daniels as patron Maya Burson is as sexy as she needs to be.

Eriq La Salle as detective James Van Der Zee (for some reason) finally reveals a quality outside his doctor Peter Benton on the long running TV series, "ER". His quality in this context is a standout. At one point Sy refers to the detective as a decent man and La Salle fulfills the image completely. His detective as a sensitive, rounded person is a fine approach to dispelling the stereotype and makes the performance natural and memorable.

Mark Romanek turns from his rock-video world to direct this disturbing character piece from his own screeplay and shows a fine eye for psychotic detail and good casting. He should urge Williams to do more in the realm of restrainment and keep away from his elfin goofily-good characters for a long time.

The photography is totally appropriate to its moods and spaces, rendered nicely by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Robin Williams as Sy Parrish, photo finisher extraordinaire
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