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One Hour Photo - Click to view! ONE HOUR PHOTO (2003)
Starring Robin Williams.
Written and Directed by Mark Romanek.
MPAA rating: R

Every time I pick up a video, I find myself more and more convinced that the critics are right. Everything that can be done has been done already, and the only role that screenwriters have left to play is to fool their audiences into believing a re-hashed idea is new. Mark Romanek plays that role with One Hour Photo, a recent dark and somewhat unoriginal film starring Robin Williams. Romanek draws on a number of characters that have been used before, tosses them together and adds subtle twists that draws the audience's attention away from the sensation that they've seen the movie before.

Williams plays Seymore (Sy) Parrish, a photo lab technician at a Wal-Mart-like department store. He is given to waxing philosophically about the products of his work (why do people only photograph the happy events in their lives? Why does this person only photograph cats, etc.), and rants in a quiet, disturbing way about the perception that "any idiot that attends a 2-day seminar can master the art of making beautiful prints in less than an hour." Developing photographs is his art, and often, his only meaningful interaction with the outside world. He grows particularly fond of one family, whom he has observed through their photography for years, with whom he pursues friendships. He keeps extra prints of this family's pictures, and keeps them in a mural on his apartment wall. He doesn't pay for them, however, and is eventually fired, cutting off his ability to develop his pet family's pictures. Around the same time, he learns that the father has been sleeping around, and goes about setting him straight.

While one could rightly argue that no screenplay has been written about an obsessive photo technician, the role of "obsessed loner-turned-criminal" has been played many times before, both in real life and in film (Mel Gibson's character in Conspiracy Theory, for example). Romanek does well to modernize the character, and creates nuances that are inventive, but doesn't do enough to be lumped in with the hacks who contend annually for the "best original screenplay" Oscar.

That said, the movie is almost worth watching entirely for Williams' performance. Though his comedic abilities (which border on genius) are squandered in a role where he rarely cracks a smile, Williams provides a performance that is clever, calculated and, as Roger Ebert has said, "haunting." His usual 20 words-per-second blather is replaced by long scenes of silence, short awkward dialogues, and slow, hushed narration. Though unspectacular in similar dramatic roles in films such as Insomnia and What Dreams May Come, he is thoroughly believable here.

Also of mention, however, is the film's reckless and unnecessary use of profanities and sexual content. Both add nothing to character development and could easily have been avoided. Viewers under the age of 18 should stay away.

The Extras
The DVD has more quality than some, offering commentary by Romanek and Williams, two "making of..." documentaries (including one that focuses only on a pivotal scene in the movie), and various trailers for both this film and another. An episode of PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show" is thrown in as well, and covers most of the territory already covered by the other features. If anything, however, the makers of the DVD have ensured that, after wading through all of the features, any questions about the plot or characters will be answered.
- Ben Forrest
August 2003
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