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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 17.91%
Average: 16.42%
Pretty Bad: 10.45%
Total Crap: 1.49%

9 reviews, 80 user ratings

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One Hour Photo
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Fuzzy Rather Than Sharp Psychological Thriller"
2 stars

It's ultimately contrived and awfully trite.

Robin Williams offers up a terrific staying-in-character performance as Seymour "Sy" Parrish, a meek and meager manager of a one-hour photo-development shop in the generic Wal-Mart-style establishment, SavMart. We've seen or known or have been or are people like Sy, the kind who go about their working days without making too much of an impression; they're paid to serve the public in undemanding jobs, and since these jobs don't require a whole lot of skill, a nondescript air inevitably seeps into their attitude, rendering themselves all but invisible in the personality department. Yet Sy isn't a complete basket case on the job, for he's manifested a deep-seated infatuation for his favorite family customer -- the Yorkins, particularly the wife, Nina (the magnetic Connie Nielsen), and her pre-teen son, Jake (the appealing Dylan Smith) -- whom he bubbles up to serve with unbridled determination and glee. Sy has grown so exceedingly outgoing toward them that it's started to creep Nina out a bit; she senses something a bit off in Sy yet manages to easily dismiss it because he seems like one of those gentle and caring types who'd never harm a fly. He gives the Yorkins special attention, going so far as to giving Jake a free camera under the bogus pretense of a promotional offer for birthday boys; and he seems so utterly dedicated to serving them the best photos possible that he loudly berates an on-call technician who balks at being summoned over to correct a slight glitch in the developer's calibration levels, which elicits stares from customers and a sneer from his supervisor, Bill Owens (the always-welcome Gary Cole). What's revealed shortly thereafter to the audience, yet not to the Yorkins, is that Sy has gone so far off the deep end that he's transferred all of his desires to be part of a loving, middle-upper-class family onto the Yorkins; he's obsessed over them to such a point where he's erected a shrine in his lonely urban apartment with hundreds of the Yorkins' family photographs he's copied for himself. He views their life together as a trouble-free paradise of the Norman Rockwell variety, the kind that didn't exist back then and certainly doesn't today by even the most lenient of standards.

So far, the writer/director, Mark Romanek, has done an adequate-enough job of establishing both character and setting (the interiors of the SavMart are photographed in blindingly harsh artificial light by the talented cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth that gives the impression of the store's fluorescent bulbs constantly rotting away at Sy's brain cells). But after no more than fifteen to twenty minutes into the film's running time, it's fairly obvious where things are headed, and all we can do is wait it out until a plot catalyst (the one in this case being Sy's discovery of Nina's husband's infidelity) arrives so it can do what it's solely intended to: provide an excuse for Sy to snap and pose a danger to the Yorkins. Yes, One Hour Photo is yet another entry in the endangering-the-yuppies saga that originated in 1987's Fatal Attraction and has continued with such far-from-eclectic fare as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Unlawful Entry, and The Tie That Binds, to name just a few. The film could have worked had Romanek revealed some genuinely insightful perspective into his subject and some jazzy unpredictability into the plotting. Sadly, we've been down this cinematic road far too many times before; and it's not the film's dire lack of originality that does it in but its utter complacency to its unoriginality -- it naively thinks it's telling us a thing or two about overworked family households and social resentment among the lowly tiers of the working class. Romanek doesn't have anything tantalizing to offer up here on a contextual level, so he's dressed the film up (mainly, the SavMart interiors) with a snazzy visual design that's certainly distinctive but far from revelatory; he's communicating the same old idea of suburban plasticity being highly reflective of yuppies' and soccer moms' conversion into rote pod people. Perhaps if the story had taken a diametrically unexpected approach of having the financially overextended husband obsess over Sy's undemanding existence (like Richard Dreyfuss' millionaire did with Nick Nolte's street bum in the observant Down and Out in Beverly Hills) we'd be more apt to be pulled into the story; but going the familiar route by presenting a have-nothing envying a have-everything just so it can be revealed that materialism doesn't equate into full-fledged domestic happiness is easy and trite.

One Hour Photo wants to be some kind of unnerving masterpiece of a psychological thriller, but it's too afraid of venturing off into risky territory to do so. It's endlessly recycling the perfunctory without injecting any irony into it, and the only suspense the audience experiences is in wondering whether the accentuation of the suburban American dailiness presented here is a put-on serving as a taking-off point for scathing revelations, or is to be taken as dead-on-seriously as yet another tired American Beautyesque mediation on the vapidity of suburban life. Sy coming across as a believable person doesn't necessarily equate into a successful creation of an onscreen character because his obsession with domestic acceptance rings nothing but mundane bells; we may understand his need but are not particularly drawn to it, so we're not as saddened or shocked by his hostile acts in the second-half because he doesn't seem to be jeopardizing anything meaningful in his own life or striving for anything rewarding in the Yorkins'. His goal of acceptance is more emotional than dramatic, and this doesn't provide the behavorial levels and complexity needed to segue a closely observed film in the beginning into thriller territory later -- there's a centrifugal force missing at the core where we'd be driven right along with Sy into dangerous, uncertain emotional terrain. Unlawful Entry (before it nosedived into convention) unearthed some fascinating observations of how low-paid street cops who patrol upper-middle-class neighborhoods were perceived as worthy enough to protect and serve these citizens yet weren't particularly welcome among them during the off-hours. And in the excellent The King of Comedy, Robert De Niro's celebrity-worshipping sociopath provided a disturbing commentary on an American public unhealthily obsessed with the rich and famous, yet it also scored points in revealing the nasty downside of being a celebrity, to where privacy is transformed into a luxury and has to be paid for both financially (in purchasing homes on remote estates) and emotionally (the powerlessness of continually being the focus of attention whether one wants it or not).

So trotting out a character as limited as Sy, who isn't substantial enough to exist in a film bereft of trumped-up artifice, is a fatal mistake of Romanek's that all the snazzy camerawork in the world can't glide over. The first-half of One Hour Photo is passable because of Williams' amazingly dexterous work -- he handles Sy's numerous emotional transitions vividly and with precision (even if it's not quite as interesting a performance as he gave earlier the same year as Al Pacino's murderous foe in the mesmerizing Insomnia) -- but the follow-through is hopelessly lame, where an array of Movieland contrivances and coincidences appear to be propelling the story rather than the character-oriented incidents that Williams manages to capably anchor from before. I'll give Romanek credit for not relying on gore and cheap shock effects, and his dialogue is often above par ("Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget."), yet he seems to have reached a major creative snafu in getting Sy from one place to another after he's fired from his job just so a confrontation can take place between Sy and the cheating husband (wittily played by Michael Vartan, who gives his lines some spin). Here is a filmmaker who's tried to have it both ways in initially serving up character and incident and then flip-flopping and fitting his central character around a series of incidents that lack the organic clarity of the previous ones; if it were suggested that Sy were following a plan he'd derived from past film thrillers, there'd be some credence to it, but that's likely giving Romanek more credit than he deserves. And the film finally serves up its nadir at the end with an episode where Sy breaks down and confesses to an abusive childhood, and we can't help but feel aghast at such a blatant cop-out of the kind not even a filmmaker as skilled as Brian De Palma saw fit to parody at the end of his classic Dressed to Kill (which, of course, was a direct lift from Hitchcock's Psycho). Then again, that granitic actor Eric La Salle plays the policeman who Sy breaks down in front of, and given that La Salle serves up another one of his cardboard specials here, maybe the thought of anyone emotionally opening themselves up to such a stiff is a handicap no film -- especially a cinematic cream puff like One Hour Photo -- can overcome.

William's performance in "Imsomnia" is much more interesting.

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originally posted: 08/28/03 00:39:57
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell creepy but overdone 3 stars
11/04/14 action movie fan eerie compelling psychological drama- held my interest 4 stars
12/05/12 Delbert Unforgettable. Frightening and Sad. 5 stars
8/19/11 RLan Robin Williams creepy performance is the highlight of this film. 3 stars
5/10/11 Stephanie One of the creepiest movies I've seen. Changes Robin Williams for ya forever! 4 stars
8/30/08 Shaun Wallner The storyline is well made! 5 stars
7/26/07 Quigley Very creepy. Sex was off-putting. Has the scariest dream sequence ever. Williams is superb 5 stars
12/03/06 David Pollastrini williams plays a psycho pretty well 4 stars
4/13/06 chris f the most touching yet sad film ive ever watched - a masterpeice 5 stars
9/02/05 ES Better than Insomnia, Willams always had the creepy weirdo thing going on 3 stars
7/20/05 Chris Worth look, quite scary (photo stalking anyone?) 4 stars
7/15/05 Indrid Cold Good acting and direction, but not particularly interesting or suspenseful. 3 stars
11/15/04 DM Jack Sommersby was dropped on his head when he was little. 4 stars
5/10/04 scott wolstencroft it was a very good movie it was really enjoyable 4 stars
3/30/04 KGB Why not, it was very disturbing, not original but thought provoking 5 stars
3/06/04 Vinny Why not? 5 stars
1/03/04 A F Why? 2 stars
1/02/04 R.W. Welch Williams nails his role as lonely weirdo. 4 stars
12/25/03 Mike If you're involved in such technicalities, well worth a look. The whole concept of voyeurs. 3 stars
12/10/03 Samuel A great thriller!! 3 stars
10/29/03 Artist Freak Well crafted in some senses technically but ultimately dull and trite 3 stars
10/17/03 Josh Standlee More like a freaking made-for-t.v. movie. Hated it! 1 stars
9/29/03 Honolulu Tur As noted, creepy, but that doesn't mean it was good, just creep 3 stars
9/24/03 DM Creepy and well-acted; ending leaves something to be desired 4 stars
9/23/03 Alice Good Acting, liked it ! 5 stars
9/14/03 Jim Creepy 5 stars
8/29/03 Grenadine Homer RW was excellent. Did wonder about 1hr photos & now wonder about Pharmacists! 4 stars
7/29/03 chris that my neighbor?? 5 stars
4/08/03 Mystique great thriller 5 stars
3/29/03 BoB Best movie ive ever seen! 5 stars
3/11/03 Matthew Smith a nervewracking experience, Robin Williams really bought that sense of unease to his role 5 stars
2/27/03 brentley Robin Williams' Sy Parrish is sad, yet very creeeeeeeepy.... 4 stars
2/26/03 Andrew Carden Eerie and Disturbing Thriller... 5 stars
2/26/03 Ken Creepy and disturbing. The ending was to subtle for most, apparently. 4 stars
2/22/03 scott A OKAY FIM 3 stars
2/22/03 Paul W. "no real subtext," you say? I say, EXACTLY! 5 stars
2/17/03 Phillip Williams is totally captivating. A gripping film. 5 stars
2/14/03 Ant A great film. Williams gives one of the best performances of 2002. 5 stars
2/12/03 alien assassin Robin Williams is creepy !!!! 4 stars
1/31/03 caitlin doyle lots of suspense 5 stars
11/05/02 Michael Buehler Rosita at Walgreens knows what you got for Christmas. Go Digital for Crying Out Loud! 5 stars
10/29/02 Unanon Forced in parts, Tidy wrap-up attempt at end failed utterly. 4 stars
10/10/02 Hawaiiantomboy07 Great Movie with an awful ending. What happens to anyone???????? 4 stars
10/10/02 Georgeous A refreshing change from teen "comedies" and rip-offs 5 stars
9/30/02 STEVE wow!hollywood trying to make a movie with thats scary! 4 stars
9/27/02 Mark G. The scariest movie ever produced by hollywood in the last 4 years. Incredible. 5 stars
9/26/02 Morally Sound Darkly delicious and creepy. 5 stars
9/25/02 snowconehead This is the first time one single actor has successfully carried an extremely slow movie 5 stars
9/21/02 Nicole Successfully creepy but the ending leaves you wanting something more 4 stars
9/19/02 jashuay the scene where the blood gushes from his eyes fucking rocks! and master w. is gay. the end 5 stars
9/18/02 Dave Grant I thought this movie sucked, and I wished I had of left half-way through. Not worth a dime 1 stars
9/18/02 .Choadushouse. Beautiful direction. Worth seeing just for that. I'm so glad Romanek is doing movies now! 5 stars
9/16/02 Etherealcelt The day after seeing ONE HOUR PHOTO I went to Wallmart and got scared. Great movie! 4 stars
9/16/02 malcolm this is the same guy who played Mork from Ork?! 5 stars
9/16/02 mrchar awesome performance and good camera work 5 stars
9/15/02 Steve Too damn slow! 2 stars
9/15/02 rue the whirl IT ROCKED. SEE IT. 4 stars
9/14/02 Kisuta Great movie. Visually exellent. 5 stars
9/14/02 Tooltime Taylor Smile for the camera!! **crack!**YOU'RE NOT SMILING, THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!! HA HA HA 5 stars
9/13/02 Heather C-r-e-e-p-y Stellar performance from Robin Williams 5 stars
9/11/02 ajay the sex was hot---oh wrong movie. Yeah, it's really good. 5 stars
9/10/02 puckfreak Robin Williams blah, blah, blah... the rest of the movie is barely above average. 4 stars
9/06/02 Butterbean The ending saves this from becoming a cliched stalker flick. 4 stars
9/05/02 Zach The music fit the movie so well.I never knew an orchastra could scare me.GaveMeChills!!!!!! 5 stars
9/02/02 Film Dude Deserves a wider release. 5 stars
9/02/02 Film Guy Good movie. a little slow at times but still good 4 stars
8/26/02 bonnie blue Surprisingly pure of Hollywood! Deeply sensitive, frightening rendering of human loneliness 5 stars
8/26/02 Obi Wan Movie is worth a look, moved kinda slow and where the hell are the final pictures? 4 stars
8/25/02 ray wow, haven't seen better all year. 5 stars
8/25/02 K-ronik Blown away. Never seen Wiliams better. 5 stars
8/07/02 Stan Wonderful movie..Robin Williams deserves a Best Actor for this one... 5 stars
8/06/02 Scouse Fuckin Very Good Robin At His Best Showing What A Great Actor He Is So Versatile 5 stars
5/20/02 Travis Eddings Mesmerizing, tremendously creepy 5 stars
5/14/02 BaitedSoul Great job by Williams, but the movie was a little too twisted for me 3 stars
4/22/02 Mikey Williams is amazing. The man has tons of talent. I saw the film on a smuggled screener.., 5 stars
4/11/02 Keith Brilliant. This will be huge. 5 stars
4/09/02 spikeme all the time Robin FINALLY GOT GAME with this and Death to Smoochy 5 stars
3/28/02 :: c0ry ::(c0d3 1989) Mark Romanek has crafted one of the most important and visionary films in a long time 5 stars
3/17/02 me good stuff...feels like an american beauty kinda 4 stars
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  21-Aug-2002 (R)



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