One Hour Photo

We don't always notice how creepy Robin Williams is when he's amusing us, but it's always lurking just beneath the surface. Writer-director Mark Romanek maximizes Williams' creep potential in One Hour Photo, an effective entry in the "(fill in the blank) from hell" genre.

Williams plays Sy Parrish, "Sy the Photo Guy" at SavMart, a large, impersonal discount store in the suburbs of a generic city. His boss (Gary Cole) and customers take Sy for granted, not noticing or appreciating his obsessive devotion to "the art of making beautiful prints in less than an hour." He's so anal about it, he's the guy you'd want to process your film.

Or maybe not. Outside of his fantasies, his job is all this lonely, middle-aged man has. His fantasies revolve around one upper-middle-class family that brings their film to him for processing: the Yorkins– Nina (Connie Nielsen), Will (Michael Vartan), and nine-year-old Jake (Dylan Smith). They don't know it, but Sy imagines himself to be part of their family, kindly old Uncle Sy. One wall of his sparsely–furnished downtown apartment is devoted to hundreds of photos of the Yorkins, copies of prints he's made for them over the years. It's almost stalking by proxy.

Two things happen to disturb Sy's imperfect but placid existence: He loses his job and with it, his grip on reality; and he discovers a threat to the Yorkins' happiness and appoints himself their protector.

Romanek's one mistake is showing in the opening scene that Sy is in custody. This confuses and weakens the climactic section. After cutting away at a crucial moment, we're left to wonder what Sy has done. We're distracted when a chase develops, but as we know Sy won't escape or be killed our primary concern becomes how he will be caught, the least interesting of all the possible questions.

I don't want to rule out the possibility of violence, but for the sensitive among you I'll say One Hour Photo is more of a psychological study than a slasher movie. Somewhere in the middle a brief fantasy sets the screen awash in blood for the sake of viewers who are sitting there screaming (inwardly, one hopes) for Sy to kill somebody already.

The production design is obvious, with Sy usually in a cold blue setting and the Yorkins surrounded by warm browns.

Williams should be back in award contention for his vivid portrayal of this very internalized character. Even his narration strikes just the right notes, as when an opening that sounds like a Kodak commercial ends with the vaguely ominous, "No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget."

With her hair short and dark, Nielsen (Gladiator) presents herself as This Year's Anne Archer. She's fine as the conflicted wife and mother, as is Vartan as her "emotionally neglectful" husband. Everyone is good, but One Hour Photo is still a one-man show.