one hour photo (2002)


director: mark romanek

robin williams, connie nielsen, michael vartan

Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo would have been a lot scarier - a far more thrilling thriller - if it were just a little bit less perfect. Romanek might have done future thriller directors a great service by proving, once and for all, that incredibly precise editing and overworked production and costume design actually work against the creation of suspense. Put simply, everybody who worked on One Hour Photo did far too good a job to make the resulting film anything less than a cinematic curiosity.

Robin Williams - working manfully against the cloying goofball roles that have made his reputation a diminished near-joke - plays Sy, the world's most committed photo lab employee. Committed is what Sy should be, we quickly learn, when we follow him home to his spare apartment and the wall-sized shrine he's made to the Yorkins, his favorite customers, a family that seems to have everything.

The irony - such as it is, since Romanek spells it out with such painful deliberation that it hammers down like hail - is that Nina and Will Yorkin (Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan), despite the beautiful home and the chic wardrobes, save their bitter arguments for when their young son Jake (Dylan Smith) goes to bed. They look good, however, and that's what fools Sy, whose own life is broadly painted as operatically, almost comically arid; his apartment, his hair, and everything he wears, is in a the colour spectrum from gray to beige to ecru. His photo lab is located in a Wal-Mart parody, a discount store so vast and neat that it could be on Stanley Kubrick's 2001 space station, his deeply-buried trauma so ultimately obvious that it could have been revealed by a billboard.

For all of the care put into the film, what someone overlooked is an ounce of humour or any hint of an anachronism that might derail the monorailaight path of the plot. Since Sy loves his job it's obvious he'll lose it, pushing his obsession with the Yorkins into psycho stalker mode. And since Nina and Will look like such a perfect couple, it's inevitable that one of them is cheating, and that Sy will take a hand. It would have been nice if something - anything - had forced a detour. It's as if Romanek had built a rollercoaster that only went in one direction - downhill - but did it flawlessly.