**/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole
written and directed by Mark Romanek
by Walter Chaw There is a keystone moment in the middle of One Hour Photo where lonely SavMart photo-technician Sy (Robin Williams) mourns his impending layoff by providing uncanny approximations of the comedy and tragedy masks in fast succession. Long our weeping velvet-clown chronicler of the twee ironic comedy of life in balance with death (hence his affection for misusing cancer-riddled kids and turning every film, including this one, into a Jacko-esque kid-love pulpit), Williams isn't stretching here to play a lonely and disturbed old guy who becomes fixated on a pretty family so much as he's indulging yet again in an aspect of his persona always fluttering under the surface of his more frenetic characterizations.
Every Williams creation is tediously obsessed with mortality and impish arrested development theatre in the face of Father Time (see (or rather, don't see): Hook, Jack, Bicentennial Man, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jakob the Liar, Toys, Patch Adams, Jumanji, etc.)--the actor's best role remains his mordant cameo in Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, a pinnacle of reserve and non-proselytizing characterization that he's been hard-pressed to match despite his best attempts in a dark period this year with Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and now One Hour Photo.
Coupled with Williams's non-event event performance is veteran music video director Mark Romanek's vision of a sterile WalMart consumer dystopia of a kind recently depicted to superior satiric impact in Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl--riffs, both, on George Romero's Dawn of the Dead Muzak hell. The jabs at the middle class continue with victim mom Nina's (Connie Nielsen) affection for the processed swill of Deepak Chopra and victim child Jake's (Dylan Smith) infatuation with Japanese popular culture. Alas, One Hour Photo lacks the fearful orientalism of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon and the kineticism of Charles King's Mama's Boy (only two sources handling the premise of fotomat stalkers with more grace and alacrity), its attempts at skewering the poor suburbanites reaching their humble pinnacles with SavMart's too-obvious-but-intriguing inspirational signs ("Our Customers are Everything, Without Them We're Nothing") and the casting of Gary Cole as another Office Space micro-management villain.
Failing at surprise and satire, One Hour Photo fails, too, in terms of the obviousness of its cinematic method (abuse of low angles and high angles; over-scoring; over-writing; a framing story) and an ending that is as out-dated and cheap as the film's surprise dream sequences and stultifying voice-overs, which devalue the piece especially at its embarrassing conclusion. Clips from The Day the Earth Stood Still and "The Simpsons" plus news footage of a tornado with "winds churning at the base" (intercut with a fellatio scene, natch) demonstrate desperate grabs at a pop-cultural caveat and cleverness that neatly undermines the film's anti-bourgeois slant. As a panderer to the self-styled intellectual cineaste, One Hour Photo caters to those looking for an easy rung with which to ascend the ever-shifting socio-academic ladder by offering itself up in the very language of the media-obsessed middle class. There is laughter to be had in the film, no question, and all of it at the expense of a clumsy Ayn Rand materialism allegory that is ultimately more revealing of the filmmakers than of the subjects they seek to skewer.
One Hour Photo has its moments--an Oedipal deluge of developing fluid is too obvious though effective all the same--but ultimately washes out as tepid and surprisingly uninteresting. Sy is pathetic, to be sure, but the film is so invested in being clever and superior that his loneliness becomes an over-rehearsed actor's workshop--his menace a theoretical exercise instead of a visceral experience. One Hour Photo resembles less a horror film than a Kubrick shrine and, like Kubrick's carefully crafted veneers, Sy's dependence on the perfection of outward appearances serves as his tragic flaw. There is, in other words, a great deal of irony in One Hour Photo's failure: it's visually intriguing (the product of Romanek's meticulous perfectionist's eye), yet its well of thorn and vinegar--and simple humanity--has long been plundered by similar works featuring the insight and punch this picture so conspicuously lacks. Originally published: August 21, 2002.
by Bill Chambers One Hour Photo comes to DVD from Fox in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of uneven beauty. (Full-frame version sold separately.) There is slight grain throughout, but that's certainly not the problem; rather, scenes that take place outside SavMart, particularly those set at night, are lacking in fine detail. However: supple saturation informs every sequence, turning the image into eye candy. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is heavy on bass and light on surround cues--Heil & Klimek's underestimated score shines.
Aside from reverting to a running gag about the One Hour Photo "home game," Robin Williams keeps a straight face during his top-notch feature-length commentary with director Mark Romanek, often prompting Romanek to discuss editorial changes, visual concepts, and the like. This is a side of Williams intrigued by process, and I like it, although both director and star are, predictably, too uncritical of the film they've made. Cinemax's featurette "The Making of One Hour Photo" (13 mins.) has little to offer beyond a selection of improvised outtakes, while Sundance Channel's "Anatomy of a Scene" (27 mins.) takes its sweet time deciding to dissect Sy's introduction to Will Yorkin in the flesh and then only enlightens--especially if you've listened to the yak-track--with a glimpse into Romanek's very practical rehearsal process. Charlie Rose eggs on a manic Williams far too much in a 36-minute segment from his show to the point of drawing blank stares from Romanek, who repeats to Rose the outright lie that One Hour Photo marks his directorial debut. (He helmed the Keith Gordon-scripted Static in 1985.) Three TV spots and a trailer for One Hour Photo as well as a preview of The Dancer Upstairs round out the disc. Love the menus. Originally published: January 22, 2003.