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One Hour Photo

Starring Robin Williams, Michael Vartan, Connie Nielsen, Gary Cole
Written and Directed by Mark Romanek

IN SHORT: An exceptionally creepy performance by Robin Williams. [Rated R for sexual content and language. 98 minutes]

A long time ago we had the pleasure of working with comedian Robert Klein for a couple of years. At the time he had a famous routine about ax murderers and serial killers whose neighbors and friends, after the crimes were solved, all commented that the fiend was "a quiet man." The kind of man you'd take no notice of in the course of your busy life. The mail man. The UPS guy. The short, middle aged guy in the neatly pressed shirt and tie manning the one hour photo franchise at the local SavMart. That sort of guy.

That sort of guy is named Seymour "Sy" Parrish (Robin Williams, click for StarTalk) and, no, he will not wield an ax by the time writer/director Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo is finished. Sy is the senior man in the local SavMart photo franchise booth and tends to the needs of the dwindling number of customers who haven't made the commitment to digital photography. Sy is the man who makes photo print machine repairmen miserable by demanding that their machines produce absolutely true colors. He is the man who looks the other way when the local would be pornographer brings in the film of the next would be star. Over the years, Sy has gotten to know the lives of his regular customers intimately, through their photographs. His life, therefore, is their life.

It's sad to be Sy. It's even better to be Robin Williams who, in his second hard core dramatic performance of this summer, walks the fine line between creepy and pathetic, portraying a man who is utterly alone. It's a more substantial role than his part in Insomnia and it is superbly performed.

Parrish is a quiet, obsessive personality. He has no wife or children. Never had 'em and now, well into middle age, probably never will. No girlfriend. No pets. No friends. The picture of his mother in his wallet, isn't really of his mother. He keeps a nearly all white apartment spic 'n' span clean. Spartan. He's got one chair. One television. There's probably a single bed, but we never see him use it. The sole decorative motif of the entire living room is an ever growing mosaic of hundreds of snapshots of the family that he has come to love over the course of the last nine years. They are the family Yorkin, father Will (Michael Vartan) and lovely mom Nina (Connie Nielsen). The Yorkins have a nine year old boy named Jake (Dylan Smith), who celebrates his birthday during the course of the film. The parents don't pay much attention to the man behind the counter but their son recognizes sadness when he sees it. Mom tells her "pookie" to send Sy some good thoughts. Among the thoughts Sy has is a desperate yearning to be called "Uncle" rather than "Sy the Photo Guy" or to walk Jake home from school. When the family is away, he'd just love to slip into the house and crack open the fridge; watch over everything while the family is gone.

And, no, Romanek has not penned your average stalker movie, either. He has allowed Robin Williams to push the envelope to develop a personable character whose on screen destruction can make you feel incredibly uncomfortable even as you begin to salivate with thoughts of the emotional explosion to come.

Sy makes the mistake of giving Jake a free camera on the kidlet's birthday. A "store promotion," he calls it. The mistake does not go unnoticed by SavMart manager Bill Owens (Gary Cole), who will use it as an excuse to give the records of the photo franchise, a fine toothed audit. What Bill discovers, after comparing the mechanical records of how many prints the photo machines have made with the cash register receipts for the number of photos paid for, is that hundreds of photos are unaccounted for -- and more importantly, unpaid for. The Yorkin family didn't ask for extra prints but Sy made 'em and kept them. That's what a good "uncle does. And all that lost money is enough to get Sy his walking papers. Sy doesn't take his firing well. On the way out of the store, he uses the key that has not been repossessed by the store to open a cabinet and steal a hunting knife. A very large, very sharp hunting knife. One which would be perfect for, say, removing certain faces that a particular psycho doesn't like anymore.

While your imaginations go haywire with the concept of Robin Williams going ballistic with a large knife we'll add two more characters to this passion play. The first is a photo shop customer named Maya Burson (Erin Daniels) who looks very familiar to Sy, and who turns out to be intimately connected to the Yorkin family. The second is police Detective Van Der Zee (Eriq La Salle) whose role would be obvious, if this film wanted to be obvious about Sy and his knowledge of Yorkin family secrets. It doesn't and that's what makes this art house feature much better than the average resident of the art house circuit.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to One Hour Photo, he would have paid . . .


"snapshot" is a term originally derived from hunting, did you know that? --

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