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One Hour Photo (2002)

Written and Directed by Mark Romanek

  A picture can hold a certain amount of power if you let it. Whatever bad or good you may encounter before or after, the fact remains that a photo freezes that moment indefinitely. “No one ever takes a photo of something they want to forget,” replies Sy the photo guy played by Robin Williams. It seems that Sy’s past, whatever that may be, had forever trapped him in the world of looking through the lens. Fixated specifically on the Yorkin’s; Jake (Dylan Smith), Will (Michael Vartan) and Nina (Connie Nielsen) in all. Having developed their pictures for the past 9 years, there wasn’t much Sy didn’t know about his loyal customers. Though it’s what Sy doesn’t see that eventually catches up to him, but I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The film starts with Sy at the police station having his mug shot taken. We find him next, questioned by a detective concerning some photos taken from his camera and inquiring as to what it had been that upset him about Mr. Yorkin.

  Told the majority of the time through Sy’s perspective, we see a man who knows what it takes to have a fine appreciation for one’s job. Knowing that photos are something that people hold very dear to them, explaining how their able to “stop time with a blink of an eye.” Posing the question if a fire were to occur, after securing the family, what would be the one thing most would recover? Why, the family photos of course. Caring for them as though they were his own, Sy is clearly the quiet loner type. It seems no matter what background he nears he completely disappears within the confines as though it wouldn’t matter one way or another if he was present. Living vicariously through this family that seems to have it all; the entire thing laid with undertone’s as to what we have yet to see. Getting a glimpse of his apartment of which is nothing out of the ordinary. That same night Jake voices concern to his mother for Sy, believing him to be lonely and that thought upsetting him. Nina suggesting that it was likely not the case as we view Sy, just as imagined with the camera panning to his walls, which are rather empty. With the exception of one in which is detailed with photos of the Yorkin family as though a shrine of some sort.

  This first glimpse leaves a lasting impression as it seems what he envisions with the Yorkin’s is more than just some sick obsession. It’s the life he’s always wanted, yet never able to obtain. Things at work begin to go sour after an argument between him and Boss Bill Owens, (Gary Cole) who attest to the possibility of not being an employee for much longer if things didn’t change. Introduced to Will for the first time, he cannot help but compliment him, though is received more in an inquisitive manner as to how much this man actually knew about his family. Even whispering to his son not to speak with strangers after seeing him chat briefly with Sy. Later while working he sees a familiar face in Maya Burson, (Erin Daniels) unable to place at the moment but deciding to suppress that for the time being and to visit Jake at his soccer practice. Sharing a walk, conversation and offering the toy Jake previously shared his interest in, though politely declining to go on his way back home. Persistent more than ever Sy spots Nina at the mall, able to force a moment between the two. After a bit of conversation he takes out the book he knew she was currently reading as it seems for the first time Nina can feel a connection to this stranger she had never noticed before.

  His work and everything that falls within still seeming to have hit a nerve with Bill, who breaks the news of having to fire Sy over a matter concerning the numbers in photo. Too many were unaccounted for that were being developed, having the rest of the week and then asked to leave. Sy’s demeanor changing immediately. Even a visit from the Yorkin’s doesn’t seem to pull him out of his slump, forgetting everything about them almost instantly. The cherry on top being having finally remembered where he had seen Maya once before; in a group photo of which Mr. and Mrs. Yorkin had as well accompanied. Returning to the store to view Maya’s photos he seems to have caught Mr. Yorkin in his indiscretion, unable to fathom the images before his eyes. Here was this man he believed held the image of the perfect life, at least it had been what their photos implied. He had something Sy could only dream of obtaining and here he was showing a ungratefulness through his eyes that only told him one thing. He needed to be taught a lesson. Planting the photos for Nina and following them home to see nothing happen. Uttering, “What the hell is wrong with you people?” Oh, the irony Using his last day at work as a half day to act as though nothing had happened. Using his store keys in acquiring a hunter’s knife that was locked up before exiting through the back of the store.

  The ending was quite powerful in many senses of the word. Sy has a nightmare in which is eye-opening, to say the least. He uses his weapon (camera) as a means to send an indirect threat to Bill concerning his daughter. The last of his energy going into following Will and Maya who have checked into a hotel. Checking in himself and taking care of the room service they had ordered, making his way up to their room for some “pretend time.” Manipulating the situation to forever cause embarrassment for the two. Having them take pictures of what they had wanted, in some aspect or another. He attempts to make his way  out of the hotel but is eventually caught in the parking garage with no other options than to politely bow out. The police find the two frozen in place, trying to forget what had just occurred with Will later going home that night to a silenced Nina. Back at the precinct, where the film first opened we hear a glimpse of what Sy had endured growing up; why his fixation with film seemed to be the only prevalent thing in his life.

  For whatever reason 2002 was able to align the movie planets ever so perfectly for Williams to make 3 films that were out of the norm for the mostly humorous actor. Chalking it up to getting to an age in which he would like to try new/different things (heads up new filmmakers) he came out with this first, following it up with Death to Smoochy and Insomnia (where he was perfect). Of course he has gone on to do a couple other films of the sort such as World’s Greatest Dad or his small role in Shrink (yet another great film). I’ve happened to be fond of every such one though I know some may be wary in seeing an actor of which they’re used to viewing only one way. Hopefully you don’t let something as such encourage you; not many comedians can make that transition as smoothly. The Yorkin family along with Boss, Bill (Cole) were each fine choices though it was just difficult to put too much of the credit in which I thought fully went to Williams and  Mark Romanek on this one. I had been a fan of Vartan ever since seeing him in the background of To Wong foo; of which Robin had a small bit in as well. If you have yet to see this film then you should do so. If truly unable to not see Williams as anything other than what his past roles had confined him to then you may want to rethink viewing. But then slap yourself for being so one-sided and go see the movie either way.