Robin Williams continues the reconstruction of Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo,” playing a lonely stalker who looks as washed-out as some of the photos he develops.
Of his recent against-type roles, including those in “Death to Smoochy” and “Insomnia,” Williams’ performance in this smart, arty little indie is by far the creepiest. He makes Sy Parrish, known to certain customers as “Sy the photo guy,” a misfit of a recognizable type. He’s the wallflower who craves company but communicates such weirdness and social discomfort that people naturally shy away.
Sy works at a kiosk in the SavMart, where he pays obsessive attention to every calibration of the photo processor and to the lives and quirks of the customers whose pictures he has developed and studied over the years.
He has paid particular attention to the Yorkin family. From countless photos of birthdays and holidays, Sy feels he intimately knows Nina (Connie Nielsen), Will (Michael Vartan) and young Jake (Dylan Smith). By the time he imagines himself integrated into the Yorkin home and photo album, you’re queasy enough to visit the acid-reflux remedy aisle.
Sy goes beyond photo-developing to an existential bond with the scenes those photos depict. According to Sy, a photo says, “Someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture.”
And Sy cares enough about the Yorkins to have covered nearly an entire living-room wall with extras he has pilfered from their rolls of film, about as encouraging a sign of Sy’s mental condition as the cracked window on his car.
When he’s sacked, ostensibly for real infractions, but really, we suspect, because he puts one’s hair on end, the delicate balance that kept Sy weird but harmless is tested. The movie’s mall-culture setting implies that a lot of society’s fringe-dwellers hang by similar threads, so ostracizing them even more is not the answer.
Perhaps there’s help over in the pharmacy, but if no one is interested in taking Sy’s picture, then it’s not likely anyone will take the time to medicate him, either.
Stalker movies are so common, it’s impossible not to have absorbed their grammar into your bones. But the visually oriented writer-director Mark Romanek, known for his music videos, is not out to make a slasher film. He cares for Sy and miraculously manages to separate this nebbish from the rest of the wacko pack of screen perverts.
Romanek’s achievement is to tailor the look of the movie tightly to its theme. He plays with lighting and composition to suggest Sy’s skewed isolation. Even the harsh lighting of the SavMart is an affront to a man like Sy, who seeks perfection in visual form, since he cannot attain it emotionally.
In one scene, Sy drives through a tunnel that seems to swim in the colors of oily photo chemicals. Sy himself is a Polaroid coming into focus as he looms into view on the up escalator and, more gradually, over the course of the movie.
Sy points out that the word “snapshot” was originally a hunting term, and the camera here comes to symbolize the weapon a loner might use to describe and defend his territory. Unlike Patch Adams, Sy is not lovable. But you wind up feeling for him, much as you feel for Sy’s pet hamster on that endless wheel.
ONE HOUR PHOTO
With Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan. Written and directed by Mark Romanek. Running time: 98 mins. Rated R: Brief nudity, brief gore, adult themes. ___
(c) 2002, New York Daily News.
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