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One Hour Photo (2002) review


Director: Mark Romanek

Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan Smith

“Family photos depict smiling faces: births, weddings, holidays, children’s birthday parties. People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.” (Sy, One Hour Photo)

The tragic death of Robin Williams has led to the inevitable business of fans sharing their favourite movies on their social networks of choice.

Given that he was obviously best known for his comedy work, it’s therefore no surprise that the vast majority of the films and TV shows nominated as his best are humorous in nature.

Mrs Doubtfire, Mork & Mindy, Aladdin, his live stand-up shows… there can be no denying that Williams made us laugh countless times throughout the years.

Even though, in reality, he was suffering on the inside

However, in my favourite Robin Williams film, he doesn’t play the funny man. Quite the opposite, in fact. As I stated on Twitter:

One Hour Photo stars Williams as Sy Parrish, a photo developer in the autumn of his life. Sy has been working at the one-hour photo counter at his local supermarket for years, and is the best in the business.

Sy doesn’t just consider what he does a job. To him, it’s a public service, and he goes out of his way meticulously adjusting the colour of each photo to ensure that the memories his customers want to capture forever are presented to them in the best way.

There’s just one problem – Sy is disturbed. Living on his own and with nobody to love, Sy has instead developed a fixation on his regular customers, the Yorkin family.

“Apparently, a decade from now people will call this a selfie and pretend it’s a new thing”

Desperate to have a perfect family life like the Yorkins seemingly do, Sy fantasises about actually being a part of their lives as the friendly and (crucially) loved ‘Uncle Sy’.

However, Sy’s fantasies eventually get the better of him and his life starts heading downwards fairly rapidly.

When he starts trying to give the Yorkins freebies (a free disposable camera for their son Jacob, a free upgrade on their print size), his manager notices and he’s fired, starting a descent into a personal Hell.

When he then discovers something that exposes the Yorkins’ life as something far less than idyllic, Sy can’t handle this revelation and something inside him snaps.

Although it’s a horror film, it’s more psychological in nature. This dream sequence is the only truly gruesome moment

He plots to do something to try to fix the Yorkins’ situation, but the result is a series of disconcerting, desperate actions from a man who just wants the world to be perfect and can’t accept that it isn’t.

Robin Williams is absolutely incredible in One Hour Photo, putting in what is undoubtedly the best performance of his career.

It takes real talent to show the audience a man who is capable of truly disturbing, downright creepy behaviour, and yet still have us feel an overwhelming sense of pity for him above all other emotions.

Although we discover numerous unsettling things about Sy as the film progresses – such as his pretence to strangers that Dylan is actually his nephew, and his living room wall, which is covered in duplicate photos of the Yorkins – we still ultimately sympathise with him.

Well, that’s certainly one way of taking your work home with you

And his final speech, in which he tries to justify his actions, instantly makes us feel terrible for having ever felt any hatred towards him whatsoever, despite what he does.

As much as I loved Robin Williams’ comedy performances, to me One Hour Photo is his finest work, and proof that he wasn’t just a great comedian but a magnificent actor.

I wouldn’t dare be crass enough to suggest Williams drew from his own personal inner demons when portraying Sy, because having never experienced anything remotely close to the hell he did it would be inappropriate and ignorant of me to imply I can understand how his mind was working at the time.

Sometimes a fantastic actor just does some fantastic acting and that’s all that needs to matter.

One thing’s for sure – this is a performance that will stick with you for a long time

The important thing is that in Sy Parrish, Robin Williams gifts us a character that is at once disturbing and endearing, ugly and beautiful, a character that I can safely say without exaggeration is one of the most interesting, provocative characters in modern film.

It’s this gift, one that he graciously shared with us all, that will linger most in my memory when I think about Robin Williams. And for that I will always be grateful.

One Hour Photo‘s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see which other films have made the grade.


In the UK, One Hour Photo can be found on DVD or Blu-ray. Same deal in the US – here’s the Blu-ray and here’s the DVD.

If you’re a streamer, it sadly isn’t on Netflix or part of the Amazon Instant Video package, though the latter does let you pay to rent a stream of it.

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