Published Jan 01, 2006One Hour Photo is a study of one lonely man's debilitating obsessiveness, taking its cue from 70s films such as Taxi Driver, but updating the setting to the contemporary bleak world of soulless consumer culture. Robin Wiliams stars as Sy Parrish, a long-standing employee at the photo counter of a Wal-Mart style big box retail chain. It is quickly revealed that Sy has developed an unhealthy fixation on the Yorkin family, whose photos he routinely processes, keeping copies for himself. Will and Nina Yorkin (Michael Vartan and Connie Neilson) and their son Jake (Dylan Smith) lead a seemingly perfect upwardly mobile domestic life, which is much coveted by Sy. Sad and isolated, Sy increasingly indulges in rich fantasies depicting his involvement in the Yorkin family and tries to establish real-life bonds with the objects of his obsession, who are only peripherally aware of his existence. Things come to a head when Sy discovers a secret which cracks the Yorkin's domestic facade and takes it upon himself to expose and correct it.
Robin Williams' performance is really the key to this movie's success. He manages to make Sy both sympathetic and insidiously creepy at the same time, creating a character who has so thoroughly repressed reality that his actions are entirely unpredictable. This creates a tension that is sustained for almost the entire movie, as you wait and wait for the character's madness to finally break through his carefully controlled exterior. Unfortunately, like most things like this, the anticipation is better than the payoff, making the film's climax of action its weakest part.
Director Mark Romanek (best known for his innovative music videos) employs a striking visual landscape to mirror his script's main themes, juxtaposing the cold corporate palette of Sy's workplace and the utter drabness of his empty apartment with the Yorkin's warm and textured family home. However, Romanek's script could do without its pretentious philosophic musings on the nature of photography, which are obvious and just get in the way of its much more interesting exploration of loneliness and isolation.