One Hour Photo (2002) is a psychological thriller about a man named Sy Parrish who runs a one-hour photo developing lab in a big-name retail store that’s a part of a larger mall. He’s quite a perfectionist and is always very kind and courteous to regular customers. One family in particular, the Yorkin Family, who Sy has been helping for years, has a special spot in Sy’s heart. When the seeds of their seemingly flawless family dynamics start to unravel, it causes Sy to tip over the emotional edge.
Ever since his death back in 2014, I’ve had a very difficult time watching Robin Williams’ works without becoming incredibly emotional. Yet, when One Hour Photo showed up on my HBO recommended list, something about it just called out to me and I knew I had to watch it as soon as possible.
Robin Williams is best-known for his fantastic stand-up comedy and such-related media. He was the beloved Genie character from Disney’s Aladdin, Alan Parrish from Jumanji, and numerous other heart-warming yet amusing characters from Mrs Doubtfire to Patch Adams to Hook and Flubber. Of his serious and dramatic roles, I’ve seen quite few, which may be another reason why I felt so drawn to this title.
My expectations going into the film really only consisted of one thing: excellent acting. I knew that with Williams’ being at the head of this narrative, I could count on that acting to be absolutely fantastic. What I wasn’t expecting in addition to that were the themes on the terrible aftereffects of childhood trauma and a lifetime of loneliness, as well as the brilliant cinematography. When one combines of all three of these elements, what we’re left with is an awesome work of psychological art.
Robin Williams’ acting left me breathless, and when you consider the fact that he struggled with depression within his personal life, specific scenes in One Hour Photo just hit that much harder emotionally and mentally. We have a man who’s in his late thirties to early forties that is completely alone. He goes to work, does his job with diligence, then returns to an empty and barren home that is a sombre reflection of his own state-of-mind. This hit me so fucking hard.
I am a very, very lonely person in my life. Recent events have left me with very little companionship. I have my cats and the sanctity of my bedroom. While my parents are a phone call and a couple streets away, we interact so little that it doesn’t do much to alleviate my sense of loneliness and this great feeling of isolation at all. Watching Sy’s life was as surreal as it was personally effective. That is the power of this movie, though. That seclusion that he lives with day in and day out, no matter how kind or giving he is. Nothing shakes it. The way that Williams’ depicts that is harrowingly eerie. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and the close-ups of his eyes in One Hour Photo will leave an imprint to haunt you for years to come.
Watching this man become intimately connected to a family that he can only dream about having as his own is more devastating than his actual existence. The audience is incited to feel discomfort and even pity, but there’s also a strong essence of anticipation too. How far can an unstable person go on living as a “normal” individual of society before that society shoves them off the cliff? I waited with bated breathe for Sy’s protective shell to crack and when it finally does… it’s so unexpected and so heart-breaking, it leaves you speechless, and if you can relate to Sy on any level, it also leaves you feeling wholly horrified about it happening in your own future.
The expression of these emotions and difficulties are crafted with outstanding cinematography. The use of colours unique to photo development to tell the frame-by-frame story of Sy and the Yorkin family is exquisitely engrossing. I paused frequently throughout my watching so I could appreciate the angles used, the colour schemes that are carefully manipulated to form a very specific feeling, or just to catch the little details in the background that offer foreshadowing of what is to come and the messages being shared. Because of the cinematography we get to encounter a simple and straightforward story with such an abundance of dimension and cerebral stimulation that it’s quite literally an experience versus just a viewing of entertainment.
The only thing I didn’t like in One Hour Photo was the husband Yorkin, which is technically the goal considering how unlikable he is in the way he treats his family and his overall demeanour in dealing with strangers. It’s easy to gauge that he’s a man with money and power who doesn’t give a shit about the little person. So, in that sense, my not enjoying his presence can be considered a success. But it also does make it challenging for viewers with certain content sensitivities to watch. For example, if someone is sensitive to infidelity-related content or content involving domestic disputes, then the husband’s presence is far more than just a mild discomfort. It can be rattling down to the bone.
All in all, however, One Hour Photo is unquestionably fucking phenomenal and I HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to watchers of psychological thrillers, folx that like films with deep allegorical messages, and for fans of Robin Williams that would like to see the true versatility of his acting talents, if they haven’t yet had the pleasure. It’s such an exceptional work of cinema.
Release Date: January 2002
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country: United States
Director: Mark Romanek
Screenplay: Mark Romanek
Story by: Mark Romanek
Producer(s): Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Stan Wlodkowski
Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek
Streaming: HBO, DirectTV, Spectrum
Platform Used: HBO Max
Content Warnings: Strong language. Some nudity and sexual content. Infidelity. Brief discussion of child exploitation and suggestive child abuse. Preparation and consumption of food. Alcohol consumption. Some strong disturbing sequences of psychological violence.