Much-hyped change of pace for Robin Williams, who plays Sy Parrish, a pathologically lonely man who works for the local SavMart (think Target) at the one-hour photo counter and who has developed (sorry) an obsession with the picture-perfect (sorry again) family: the Yorkins (Michael Vartan, Connie Nielsen, and Dylan Smith as their 9-year-old son). The Yorkins have been bringing in their photos for years, and Sy always makes sure to keep extra copies of each photo for himself, with which he proudly fills up one wall of his otherwise empty apartment.
I suspected that this film would quickly fall into the same old trap of lonely-weirdo-gets-involved-with-wonderful-family thrillers such as The Stepfather, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Fatal Attraction, etc., in that Parrish would eventually go nuts and start killing people, only to finally be offed in the end by our reluctant father figure – you know the drill. But writer/director Romanek (heretofore best known for making Nine Inch Nails videos) subverts our expectations at the very beginning, where we see that Parrish has been arrested, is unharmed, and doesn't seem to have killed anybody.
This revelation at the onset shrewdly shifts the focus away from the story and onto Parrish himself, which is what is really on One Hour Photo's mind: it's a portrait of a singular individual that gives Robin Williams a chance to inhabit a non-Robin Williams-like character for once. He all but disappears behind the bleached hair, pilot frames, and nerdy clothes, and mostly keeps his portrayal restrained. Of course Parrish does eventually go nuts, which anybody could tell from the tell-all trailer, but Romanek stays true to the character and doesn't make Parrish a sudden expert in firearms or torture or anything. He remains a pathetic creature.
There are moments when I wish Williams could have kept himself restrained all the way through, though. The final scene – which I'm not giving away – does explain why Parrish is what he is, but Williams plays it far too actorly, and there are other moments where he turns on the tear ducts, and those moments deflate rather than enrich his characterization. Sy Parrish is a lot creepier, and sadder, and more real, when he merely stares off into space.
Anyway, despite Romanek's music video training, he doesn't smother his story in fancy visuals, though he seems rather overfond of sterile white environments. It's as though Sy Parrish lives in his own private Kubrick film. And the story doesn't fully satisfy, due to its too-frequent lapses in logic (e.g., if somebody is fired from their job, do you really think they would still be allowed to keep keys to the workplace?). It's merely an interesting character study, giving Robin Williams a chance to convince the moviegoing public that he has range. The film doesn't offer much more than that, but then it doesn't really try to.