Over the last twenty years, the career of Robin WIlliams has been all over the map, with him being a in a wide variety of films, giving a mixed range of performances, and the critical reception varrying wildly among each production he's been a part of. During this time he won a much deserved Oscar for Good Will Hunting, and gave two different but similar performances in two exceptional well made and amazing films, roles which brought him a lot of attention due to the fact that the roles were unlike anything WIlliams has ever done throughout his entire career. One of those films was Christopher Nolan's remake of Insomnia. The other, released the same year, was this film: One Hour Photo.
This film is an example on all fronts of what makes a great thriller a great thriller, especially with how it follows the mantra of less is more. Tension, drama, and atmosphere are created, not by scenes of shocking violence, over the top perforances, and gratituous subject matter, but by nuance, subtlety, effective editing, music, art direction, camera work, and shot composition- basically mise-en-scene. This film is the writing and directing debut of music video director Mark Romanek, and it is one of the best and creepiest films I have seen in a long time.
Playing the role of a severely lonely man who has a grossly unhealthy attachment to a family who are frequent customers of his is a very challenging role for anyone, and not just an actor known for comedic performances. This is the type of role where one could easily over do it, and have it all fall to pieces. I think this is one of the best roles Williams has ever done, and it's not just because he is playing against type, it's because he does it so well that you can't see anyone else but him do it. You forget that he's a comedic actor. Williams IS the nice, but oddly unsettling photo tech.
This is really Robin's movie, but the supporting performances by Nielsen and Cole (in a twisted nod to Office Space-kinda) are also pretty terrific. It's quite appropriate how a ovie about film development and picture taking has some magnificent camera work (including some great long takes and tracking shots) and shot composition. The art direction is perfect too: the stark, plain white walls and aneseptic look of the store and Sy's apartment, the nice use of lighting, all of it brings an unforgettable air of unease that make Sy's loneliness and deterioration all the more creepy. The music isn't overly dramatic, but it's not too light hearted either. Muzak is never probably taken seriously as an art form, but the way it is used here, like the look and the sets, perfectly captures the moments and places that seem ordinary, but harbor something far darker underneath.
In a way this is a lot like Hiitchcock, but not in a derivative or contrived way. Romanek said that a lot fo the "lonely man" pictures fro the 1970s played a huge inspirational role, and it shows ,especiially Taxi Driver. Not a great deal happens in this movie, but that's another reason why it works so well. Thigns at first don't seem totally wrong, but there is a definite sense that not everything is right.
I can tell this will be a film I won't soon be forgetting.