One Hour Photo Review
One Hour Photo attracted attention on its theatrical release largely because of the presence of Robin Williams in a rare villainous role, but although Williams' performance is notable, the film has much more to offer than just a star turn.
Robin Williams plays Sy Parish, a photo developer working at a booth in a large shopping mart. A deeply isolated individual, Sy's only real social contact comes through dealing with his customers, and his only experience of normal family life is derived from the viewing of other people's family photos. He has developed a particular interest in the Yorkin family, who have been regular customers for a number of years and whose life as portrayed in their photographs seems representative of all that Sy desires but can never have. Sy has developed an elaborate fantasy life in which he is a close family friend, and he desperately seeks a way to turn his dream into reality and become part of the family's life. However, Sy's obsession takes a more sinister turn thanks to a combination of events in his own life and his discovery that the Yorkin family life is not as perfect as it appears to be in their photographs.
One Hour Photo is the second feature from writer/director Mark Romanek after a massive seventeen-year gap, his first being the excellent indie film Static, which sadly has yet to receive a DVD release. In the intervening time, Romanek honed his directorial skills on a series of music videos before returning to the big screen with One Hour Photo.
Inspired by seventies films such as Taxi Driver and The Conversation, Romanek wanted to produce a film focused on a socially isolated and disturbed individual. Rather than simply imitating the films that inspired him, Romanek has successfully managed to produce an unsettling psychological thriller with its own unique identity.
As well as the acknowledged influence from Coppola and Scorsese, there also echoes of Kubrick, thanks both to the dream-like white environment of the SavMart store where Sy Parish works and Romanek's resolutely non-judgemental approach that allows the audience to make up their own minds about the characters and their actions. This ambiguity extends to the script as well, creating a sense of unease as Romanek continuously plays with audience expectations and ultimately leaves some questions unanswered and open to audience interpretation. This respect for the audience's intelligence is regrettably rare in modern cinema and is highly welcome here. Some of the expositional dialogue may be a little clumsy, but as this is only Romanek's second movie script, and first without a collaborator, this can certainly be forgiven, particularly given the fact that his character writing is excellent.
Robin Williams' performance as Sy Parrish has deservedly been acclaimed, and is clearly the most noticeable not only because Sy Parrish is the central character but also because he is so far removed from Williams' familiar real-life persona. However, there isn't a weak performance in the film, from the cameo appearances from veterans like Nick Searcy and Gary Cole right through to child actor Dylan Smith.
Fine performances, an original script and well-judged direction combine to produce an effective psychological thriller with a genuinely unsettling atmosphere.
For a second opinion of the film, read Raphael Pour-Hashemi's theatrical review.
The anamorphic transfer in the original 1.85:1 ratio is a little disappointing. Although colour levels are good, the level of detail and sense of depth are below expectations for such a recent film. There is also a surprising amount of noise present throughout, though never to the point that it becomes distracting. On the positive side, the print itself appears to be in excellent condition, with no flecks or other noticeable damage and the deliberately dream-like cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth is effectively presented. This suggests that the problems that do exist with the transfer are due to an unfortunate case of over-compression.
As One Hour Photo is mainly a dialogue driven film, the Dolby 5.1 surround track is mainly of benefit to Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek's moody score, which is a major contributor to the uneasy atmosphere of the film.
Robin Williams is surprisingly subdued and reticent during the commentary track, and is content to let Mark Romanek do most of the talking. Mark Romanek admits that he showed a rough cut of the film to Francis Ford Coppola and received some candid comments that helped to shape the film into its final structure. Romanek also talks about the deliberately dream-like look of the film, the casting, the production design and working with Robin Williams. When prompted, Robin Williams does talk a little about his experiences making the film and also explains why he agreed to take part in his first ever commentary track.
The twelve-minute Cinemax featurette takes the usual format of such promotional material and includes excerpts from interviews with the director and cast interspersed with clips from the film. Also included is some behind-the-scenes footage, most notably of Robin Williams letting off steam between takes. Although hardly an in-depth look at the making of the film, this segment is above the general standard of these promotional features.
The Charlie Rose Show is a thirty-five minute segment taken form a US talk show, and features Mark Romanek and Robin Williams in discussion with the eponymous host. Robin Williams is his more usual self here and provides much of the feature's entertainment value. While Williams inevitably dominates the proceedings and manages to diverge wildly from the topics at hand in the interests of humour, a fair amount of informative ground is still covered. Mark Romanek explains the genesis of the film, and how Robin Williams became involved. In turn, Williams explains his interest in both the film and his decision to choose a more villainous role than is usual for him. Mark Romanek also gets a chance to talk about his previous background in music videos. Thanks to the discussion format and the fact the Robin Williams is let off the leash, this feature is far more entertaining than the standard interview format without being any the less informative.
A twenty-seven minute feature produced by the Sundance channel entitled Anatomy Of A Scene is, as the title suggests, an exploration of how a particular scene from the film was produced. This is explored from almost every conceivable angle - as well as hearing from the director and cast, we are given the rare opportunity to hear from various members of the crew, including producers, the production designer, cinematographer and even the costume designer. The location, lighting and editing of the scene are all discussed and some video-camera footage of the actors rehearsing is also included. Although only a single scene is the focus of attention, this feature still provides a wealth of insight into the production of the whole film.
Although some may criticise Fox for supplying mainly existing third-party material as extras rather than original content, this has actually served to benefit the disc. The majority of UK viewers will not have seen the broadcasts of The Charlie Rose Show or the Sundance feature, and as both of these had to be able to stand up as programmes in their own right they are both of a higher quality than any specially produced material probably would have been. In fact, the content of these shows coupled with the commentary track should be enough to please most viewers. Possibly the only other worthwhile inclusion could have been some of the music videos directed by Mark Romanek, but this would doubtless have incurred licensing issues and would not have been of direct relevance to the main feature.
Perhaps unsurprisngly given their television origins, none of the extras are presented anamorphically. However, Fox should be commended for the fact that they have supplied English hard-of-hearing subtitles for all of the extras, including the commentary track. This will no doubt come as very welcome news to a number of people and should really be standard practice.
One Hour Photo is an intelligent and unsettling psychological thriller with fine performances from all the cast. Although the quality of the transfer is slightly disappointing for a recent film from a major studio, this is partly compensated for by a selection of high quality extras that do justice to the film.