One Hour Photo: Robin Williams Gets Nuts

If nothing else, One Hour Photo finally certifies Robin Williams as a dramatic talent with considerable range. This is a goal that he’s been working studiously at in 2002, with One Hour Photo book ending a semi-trilogy of darkness.

Unfortunately, the first two didn’t do much for him: Death to Smoochy was one of the year’s major busts, disemboweled by a slew of awful reviews. The terrific Insomnia gave Williams some strong scenes as a suspected killer, but a great performance by Al Pacino stole what little light was in the film.

In One Hour Photo, Williams has the stage to himself. He plays Sy Parrish, a photo clerk haunted by the weight of everyday life. Parrish has no wife, no friends, and has chosen to waive off years of vacation time. Sporting glasses, a buzz cut, and bleached hair, Williams plops right into the role of an everyday worker like a maniacal couch potato. This is a character you’d never expect see outside of work and it’s also a great performance, arguably Williams’s best as an actor. Out of this year’s three performances, this one is sure to get an Oscar nomination.

One of the main customers at the SavMart photo lab is Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), a cute publicist, who’s 9-year old son, Jake (Dylan Walsh) fits into the adorable little boy in unseen danger. The father, Will (Michael Vartan), is the average family man. He’s not around a lot because he is out making the big bucks. To the Yorkin family, Parrish is the corny but kind “Sy the Photo guy.” To Sy, the Yorkin family represents everything that he doesn’t have and yearns for. They are a dignified symbol of stability and security.

Parrish becomes obsessed with them. We see hundreds of their photos pasted on the walls of Sy’s home. We see Sy go out of his way to act like an uncle figure to Jake. We see Sy go through a series of frighteningly screwed up hallucinations as “Uncle Sy.”

Shocking revelations occur, which cause Parrish’s transformation from a lonely, haunted individual into one that can no longer be considered a non-threat to society. There’s no need to spoil the “fun” that arises, except to say that first time writer-director Mark Romanek handles it in a subtle, yet graphic way.

The film is a complete triumph visually for Romanek, who’s prior work includes directing the nefarious Nine Inch Nails music video, “Closer.” He gives us horrific, yet beautiful imagery throughout the moderately paced conflicts in Sy Parrish’s life. Romanek control the camera with deft precision, and doesn’t cram to much into a scene, something quite rare for MTV talent.

In the 1980s, Williams showed a strong ability to balance comedy with dramatic acting. Lately, he’s been confined to comedic roles that remain dull no matter how nutty the differences in impressions and voices.

With One Hour Photo, Williams is the complete opposite. Sy Parrish may be smiling on the outside, but inside his soul is full of tortured memories and macabre futures. We feel this character’s emptiness inside, and by the end of the film, we can also feel his rage.

Jeremy Marks-Peltz can be reached by his honeys at all times.

September 6, 2002


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