Imagine what it would be like to witness the happy momenets from the lives of the people around you, all the while you had no friends, family, or even close contacts. That's the life of 'Sy The Photo Guy' (played by Robin Williams), who for the past eleven years has been seeing every birthday, every vacation and every Christmas party in the snapshots he so meticulously develops and prints. It's not just a lonely life, it's a desperately lonely life with a front row view of everyone else's happiness.
To the people around him, Sy doesn't seem so lonely. He's always the nice friendly clerk at the One Hour Photo who so warmingly greets his customers by name, knows their street addresses by heart and has tremendous pride in running the best 'mini lab' in town. Robin Williams does a fantastic job of portraying this extremely dualistic character. He puts aside the electric energy and emotion he typically brings to his roles and plays one of the most restrained and complex characters I've seen.
Williams, who is on screen for the majority of the film, is captivating to watch. He manages to make Sy an extremely likeable charcter, then expose us to his darker side and somehow recapture our affection for the character despite our exposure to his utter creepiness. The performance is no small feat and Williams handles the role like an absolute pro.
Unfortunately Williams' performance is really one of the few reasons to see One Hour Photo, which is an often slow and unsatisfying film. Connie Nielsen (you'll remember her from her notable roles in Devil's Advocate, and Gladiator) does a decent job in her role as Nina Yorkin, but is not given much to work with. Nielsen provides some of the emotional fuel for the film but many of her scenes are so short, it's almost as if Writer/Director Mark Romanek wasn't able to really shift his focus away from Williams for any period of time. Also short cut is Michael Vartan (from ABC's Alias) who plays Will Yorkin, Nina's husband. One Hour Photo would have been a much better film if the Yorkin characters were better fleshed out and we were given more than a 'snapshot' view into their life. But maybe that's the point. We, like Sy, are only given a 'snap shot' view of the world. Clever, huh? But clever doesn't make a good film.
One Hour Photo premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and is another in a long line of small independent films with big name stars. Many of these films tend to feel more like an film exersise with the focus on the pieces over the end product. If you look at some of the individual elements of One Hour Photo you could say that they've suceeded in their exercise but as film it's just not there.
My biggest problem with One Hour Photo is how truly unsatisfying a film it is. We spend over an hour getting into the mind of a character and only a short while seeing where that leads us. The film has almost an anti-climax which felt like it was done almost as a defiance to the norm, which is fine, but the very end of the film feels like it was tacked on to try to explain it all, which really felt like a cop-out. I'm all for Directors challenging the conventional norm in films, but if you're going to do it, stick by your guns!
One Hour Photo is one of those movies that's hard to recommend but at the same time isn't a terrible film. If you're a fan of Robin Williams and want to see him in a great performance then you'll want to check it out. But in the same respect you've really got to like Williams because he's in almost every frame. One Hour Photo may be better suited for the 24 hour rental than an evening at the movie theater.