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"One Hour Photo"

Directed by Mark Romanek.
Written by Mark Romanek. 
Starring Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/26/02 


Believe the hype—“One Hour Photo” is a solid, solid film.

Robin Williams delivers his best performance in a long while as Sy Parrish, an 11-year veteran of the one-hour photo development lab at SavMart, a Wal-Mart-esque store in a made-up suburb.  When the film opens, he is being interrogated by a cop (Eriq La Salle) for a crime he has apparently committed, and we spend the next 90 minutes learning just what that is.  The family—Will (“Alias” star Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen), and 9-year-old son Jake (Dylan Smith)—seems like a pretty normal family, with an idyllic home, expensive cars, and fancy clothes.  It is these things that Sy envies in the family, which has become such an obsession for him that he knows where they live, all of the details of their home’s interior...even the size of the prints that Nina normally likes for her photos.  This obsession leads to trouble down the line.

Once the film gets going, there aren’t that many surprises as to what is going to happen, but the plot of the film isn’t nearly as interesting as the lead character in “One Hour Photo.”  You don’t hear me say this often, but Williams is brilliant in this film.  He has played the whacked-out types before but he just kept me on edge throughout this film.  Tense.  When Sy goes to dinner and comes home to be alone for the night, just watching him stand in the kitchen to drink a glass of water makes you nervous.  And, as he parades down the bland aisles of the SavMart, he just consumes you with his loneliness, because you imagine for a moment every single weird retail store worker you have ever seen—especially if they are in the 40-to-50-years-old range—and wonder:  are they all this way?  What must it be like to go in every day for 20 years (Sy has been at the SavMart for 11 years, but “in the one hour photo business” for 20 years) and look at other folks’ happiness?  The voice-overs in “One Hour Photo” are excellent, as Sy talks about the picture business and the human tendency to only take pictures at their happiest moments; if you don’t have any happy times, why not live through the lives of those that do?

Much of the credit here, then, goes to writer/director Mark Romanek for his work and especially his script—it really keeps things simple, and that ends up making the film so interesting.  Surprisingly, there are a few big laughs in “One Hour Photo”, and they help bring the tension down a step for a few brief moments.  Better than that, though, is the cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth (he also shot “Fight Club” for David Fincher).  The visuals in “One Hour Photo” are almost as good as Williams’ performance.  The way the SavMart store is shot is excellent, and the tidiness of the store as well as the off-white walls that make up 98% of the store are so clean...I felt like I should ask for the Rollback prices, it was so damned close to Wal-Mart.

Vartan and Nielsen are very good as well.  While the performance by Gary Cole (the boss from “Office Space”) is also good, it is so close to his performance in that 1999 comedy that the characters’ first names are the same...this was a minor distraction in his few scenes.  The score adds to the overall dark feel of the film and “One Hour Photo” seems to do all of the little things well—little details of Sy’s apartment, sharp editing, and consistency with the continuity.  And, by only having four characters really be featured throughout the film, it allows for some good development in the people with whom we spend so much time.

As we move into September—“the worst movie month of the year”—this is one of the few highlights for late summer and early fall.  Check this one out ASAP.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09