One Hour Photo

One Hour Photo

Thinking of buying a digital camera? ‘One Hour Photo’ will make you think twice about the guy behind the counter next time you drop off a roll of film to be developed. "One Hour Photo" tells the story of Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), who works behind the photo counter of “Savmart” (a movie surrogate for the gigantic American retail chain Wal-Mart). Sy is the sort of person you might pass on the street without realizing he’s there, and then he’s gone as if he were never there at all, a lonely, anonymous man that perhaps, if you were to notice him, you’d feel a little sorry for him without knowing quite why.

He’s a kind man, dedicated to his work and takes pride in knowing his regular customers by name. He’s particular attentive to his favorite customers, the Yorkins—Nina, Will, and their son Jake. He gives them 5-by-7s and only charges them for 4-by-6s. He gives Jake a free disposable camera for his birthday. Every time they bring in film to be developed, he makes an extra set of prints—for himself.

In the fantasy world Sy’s disturbed mind has created from the idyllic version of the Yorkins’ happy home life (elaborately assembled from the purloined family photos), he’s “Uncle Sy,” a beloved member of the Yorkin family. His brightly-colored fantasy life is able to peaceably coexist with the colorless, desperately lonely, fluorescent-lit routine of his real life, until one day he accidentally discovers while printing photos for another customer that the Yorkins’ home life is not as happy and untroubled as it appears to be in their photos. With his imaginary world crumbling around him, Sy sets out to set things right for the Yorkin family.

In many respects, “One Hour Photo” is typical of the suspense genre, not unlike a lot of the other stalker movies you’ve no doubt seen you fill of by now. It’s saved from its plot conventions only by a story that chooses the stalker, not the victim, as its sympathetic protagonist. It’s a tribute to Williams ability as an actor that he is able to make Sy a character with which the audience can, if not empathize with, at least fell sympathy for. Sy is meek, inarticulate, suburban Travis Bickle, a man driven to do bad things by good intentions who never quite seems capable of the things he does. His attempt to insert himself into the Yorkins’ life, and ultimately to save them from themselves, is really an attempt to deliver himself from the damage inflicted by the horrors of his own past.

‘One Hour Photo’ is a touch too moralizing to be totally satisfying as a thriller, and a little too mired in genre conventions to be a truly effective critique of middle class suburban American morality, but, due to the strength of Williams’ performance, Sy Parrish is alarmingly resonant as an archetype of the betrayals at the dark heart of American ideals.

Matt Parks

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