One Hour Photo: Special Edition
Fox // R // $27.98 // February 18, 2003
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 30, 2003
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Graphical Version

The Movie:

A small, quiet horror picture for most of its running time, "One Hour Photo" rachets up the unease in the first 3/4ths of the picture to the point where it almost becomes difficult to watch at times. The film stars Robin Williams as Sy the Photo Guy, a lonely lab tech at the local SavMart who strives for perfection with the prints of every roll. The Yorkins - Nina ("Gladiator"'s Connie Nielsen), Will (Michael Vartan of "Alias") and young Jake - have been customers for quite a while, one of Sy's favorites, in fact. Although they don't ask for two sets of prints, he makes them anyways. However, the Yorkins only see one set. Guess who keeps the other?

As we find out early in the picture, Sy has become obsessed with the Yorkin family, whose outward image of a perfect family Sy admires and even envisions himself a part of. When Sy finds a crack in the perfect image of the Yorkin family, it sends Sy over the edge - which he was already close to anyways - into madness.

Part of the film's success is due to the performance by Robin Williams, which is clearly the most restrained effort the actor has ever offered. Sy, as played by Williams, is remarkably creepy - a smiling exterior hiding rage just underneath the surface. While Williams was stellar in a smaller part in "Insomnia", this is clearly the performance that shows more range and impresses a great deal more. Part of the incredible, ominous tension the film builds is because we know Sy is going to lose it, but the film keeps subtle, adding in a few very chilling scenes along the way - including a great reveal of the artistic creation that Sy has been working on for years, filling his apartment wall. We expect the film to explode, but it's not until near the end that it does. When it does, it's not effective as the underplayed first 3/4ths.

The other element that works beautifully in "One Hour Photo" is the look of the picture, which seems to have been sculpted with remarkable precision and care. The store itself, apparently constructed from scratch, is a fascinating thing: each item has been perfectly placed and remains dust-free. The floors are at a level beyond spotless, while the light is clean and pure. Jeff Cronenweth's masterful cinematography is also often fascinating to watch; not only is it beautifully composed, but the film's use of color is superb.

At a brisk 96 minutes, "One Hour Photo" could have used a little more time to develop the story and characters, but overall, I still enjoyed the film. Certainly, this is a strong writing/directing debut from director Mark Romanek and I look forward to his next picture.


VIDEO: Fox presents "One Hour Photo" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is generally a terrific transfer from Fox, as it presents the film's stunning cinematography with crystal clarity and fine detail. Flaws in the presentation are fairly minor; some very slight edge enhancement is present on a couple of occasions, while only a couple of minor traces of artifacts are noticed. Otherwise, the print is in terrific condition with no flaws, while no other concerns are spotted. The film's cool color palette was presented perfectly, with well-saturated colors and no smearing. Black level remains solid throughout, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural.

SOUND: Fox presents "One Hour Photo" in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is quiet, but still fairly enjoyable. Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek's score sounds first-rate throughout the show, often filling the room with its eerie tones. Slight, enjoyable ambience is heard in the surrounds throughout the movie, often adding to the experience. Given the material, it's to be expected that there's not much in the way of bass, but this is still a fairly dynamic soundtrack that boasts enjoyable, clean audio quality.

EXTRAS: Director Mark Romanek and actor Robin Williams offer a screen-specific commentary for the film. Williams is about as restrained here as he is in the film, which makes the occasional funny comment that he offers about the characters or story that much more amusing. Williams is suprisingly insightful about the technical and production aspects of the commentary and is able to offer a more informative and interesting discussion of this particular film than most actor commentaries do for their particular films. Romanek is interesting, as well, as he discusses both the directing and writing aspects of the picture with great energy and detail. He and Williams share the track perfectly and seem to get along very well.

A 14-minute "Cinemax" featurette doesn't offer more than the usual promotional piece, but a 30-minute "Charlie Rose Show" interview with Romanek and Williams and a 25-minute "Anatomy of a Scene" documentary offer more in-depth info. On the Charlie Rose piece, Williams goes back to his old funny self, but both he and Romanek still offer a smart, enjoyable discussion of the themes, characters and story.

Rounding out the package are trailers for "One Hour Photo" and "Banger Sisters", along with 3 TV spots for "One Hour Photo". The main menus are very nicely done, too.

Final Thoughts: A compelling and effective film up until about the last fifteen minutes, "One Hour Photo" offers a terrific lead performance from Robin Williams and exceptional cinematography and production design. Those in the mood for a subtle, creepy drama should certainly give it a look. Fox's DVD offers very good audio and video quality, along with a few very informative and enjoyable supplements.

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