Since bouncing onto our screens as the fast talking alien in “Mork and Mindy”, Robin Williams film career has been full of varied and interesting choices. Some have been little more than vehicles for his own stand up routine, such as “Good Morning Vietnam” with its semi-ad-lib script and wise cracking motor mouth central character and some have been undertaken for either the pure entertainment value that appeals to Williams nature or possibly for the associated pay cheque. But for every throwaway, Mrs Doubtfire, Flubber and the like, there has been and equal amount of work that reminds us that here is an actor worthy of our admiration, someone who is equally up to the challenge of darker, deeper and questioning films. “The Fisher King” showed us Williams suffering from the repercussions of horrific events from his past and “Awakenings” was a monumental triumph both for Williams as a doctor trying to find a solution for coma patients but also for Robert De Niro as his co-lead. “One Hour Photo” shows us Robin Williams in this light too, in a deep, thoughtful and disturbing role and for the first time we see him as the villain rather than as the good guy, though thinks are not as straight forward as that makes it sound. This film eradicates any doubts about his ability to play a completely straight role.
Williams plays Sy Parish, a long term and very experienced worker in a one-hour photo developer in a large hypermarket. For all his cheery manner and everyman quality, his life is an empty one, a single lonely man, a creature of habit, an empty shell, he eats alone in the local dinning hall and his co-worker observes that he has no friends. There is however one thing that colours his life, the Yorkin family. In the Yorkin’s he sees everything that completes his image of the perfect family, a successful couple, a loving relationship and a young son who is the apple of Sy’s eye. Having seen their life evolve over the years through the photographs he develops, he has fallen in love with everything about his imagined surrogate family, but photographs only show the good things in life, the happy times. Beneath the smiles and the seeming American dream existence there are cracks that have been papered over and it is when Sy finds the evidence of this, his whole demeanour towards the family changes. The film also moves into more gritty territory, Sy the ordinary, lonely, harmless guy becomes a man out for revenge for his shattered dreams and for a secret deep rooted in his past.
What makes Williams so good in this role is his ability to begin the film as this seemingly charming happy and carefree character, the sort of person that populate every shop counter around the world. From the moment we meet him we totally buy into his depiction of mister ordinary and the realisation that these still waters run deeper than we could image makes even more impact because if it. Connie Nielsen as Nina Yorkin, Williams main scene partner for the first half of the film plays the dream mother to a tee and all this smiling normality lulls us into a false sense of security until director Mark Romanek is really to pull the rug from underneath our feet. There are some subtle moves off the beaten track to begin with, one scene that has Sy committing a seemingly remarkable sochttps://thewessexfilmreview.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/220px-one_hour_photo_movie.jpgial trespass begins this quiet re-orientation of the film and by the time we get to the all important reveal scene we find ourselves re-thinking what we thought we knew about the main character. I have had to describe these events in very vague terms as its one of those films that can be ruined by the smallest of information. There is a nice contrast in the settings, and it’s the cinematography itself that builds the atmosphere to a great degree here. Jeff Cronenweth’s bright and intrusive florescent and white interior to the hypermarket make the place seem alien and otherworldly and are a stark contrast to the later more normal backdrops to the action. Even the store uniforms and Williams himself, with his pallid skin tones, add to that ultra vivid image.
The film follows Sy’s mental path as he moves from a lonely fixated man to something far more dangerous when he finally can’t differentiate between reality and the fantasy his mind has created. Once he is no longer satisfied to be a distant voyeur and feels compelled to take matters into his own hands he crosses a line into altogether more dangerous territory. The story is a one-man show and Williams’s character is a very complex character and although he is not mentally complete or balanced there is sympathy for his actions given his past which although only hinted at near the end of the film is evident to the viewer. Its not your usual thriller, there is an everyday quality to the backdrop that makes things even more creepy, these are normal lives, lives like yours and mine. Where as many films involve plots that require a large degree of suspending reality, this film seems far too real. You may ask how a man that prints your photo’s can hold any power over you, but in a world when photographs of a naked baby can be misconstrued as child abuse, the man with access to your family’s photograph album can cause you a lot of problems.