One Hour Photo
Directed by Mark Romanek
Starring Robin Williams
“Nobody ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.” — Sy Parrish
Think about that. Our photographs are records of joyous events — birthdays, weddings, the weekend at the lake. Never the recovery room after surgery, the bitter hangover after a forgotten evening, these aren’t the events we want to dwell on and return to. We want to flip the pages of a photo album and recall the laughter and good times — for without photographs to jog our memory, the details blur over time and eventually we forget them entirely.
But other events — the big, bad, ugly ones — we never truly forget. They linger with us; invade our private moments, for in some cases, they are life-changing. It was Tolstoy who said “All happy families are happy alike, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” This masterful movie examines how guilt, longing and shame merge to create an unhappy family, and the ways the echoes of the ugly events of the past press on Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) to create a lonely, strange man who lives vicariously through the lives of a family whose pictures he has developed for years. This is a movie about different levels of trust — between a man and his family, between you and the person you hand your weekend pictures to, never allowing yourself to ponder the process that returns them to you.
This movie is so well crafted and tightly made that to explain too much of it would constitute spoiling it, but the film is a masterful work of sustained tension and use of color that never truly lets up, forcing you by the end to squirm uncomfortably in your seats anticipating what is to come — or what you think is to come, that is — and the movie’s few faults do not detract appreciably from its total focus. Gary Cole plays the manager of the SavMart where the photo shop is located, and his role is nearly the same one he played in Office Space, so you keep expecting a laugh that never comes. Other than that, the elements of the film that on first glance strike you as “wrong,” upon further reflection, prove to be vital pieces of the puzzle.
Robin Williams is at his best here. Gone are the mugging caricatures of his past roles, replaced with a quiet, bland being who only comes to life in the presence of his “family.” From his Velcroed shoes to gray slacks, he never appears as a fully realized person, instead allowing the viewer to paint whatever images they choose onto him. His subtle uses of his face are the most effective moments of the film, a face that is marked by years of isolation, guilt and desire for something more.
One Hour Photo in many ways advances the notion of a “suspense” movie a little further down the line, and relies more of our reaction to commonplace events to tighten the sense of dread we feel. The ending leaves you shocked, and the suddenness of its depiction will leave many walking out of the theatre feeling somehow cheated. But when you stop to ponder on it, it makes sense, and you determine from the clues given during the film (much like in The Sixth Sense), that it finished with the only conclusion that could have remained true to the notions of the film. This movie is being slowly released around the country, hoping to build an audience via word of mouth before a larger release. The filmmakers should not worry about that. One Hour Photo is a film of the sort that demands further thought, discussion and repeat viewing. Every frame of the film is a work of art, crammed full of hints and shadings, the cast is utterly true, and the film affects you on a personal level like few in recent memory. If this movie doesn’t frighten you, then it is not the fault of the filmmakers, but rather, an unwillingness to truly examine all the pictures of ones life.