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Robin Williams redeems himself
  • Robin Williams redeems himself

*One Hour Photo (R)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

When I stopped going to Robin Williams' movies, I felt a slight twinge of regret. I didn't miss his smirkiness, his smarminess or his tendency to go so far over the top you wanted to yell, "Cut!!"

But I knew, because I admired his early stand-up work, that Williams had a unique subversive quality -- sometimes funny, often creepy -- that few other performers could bring to a role. Williams is like that guy you know in real life who you feel might be on the brink of sudden psychosis, prone to fits of joyful delirium that could turn dark at any moment. You kind of like him but he's really hard to be around.

One Hour Photo, besides being a well-directed, mildly interesting psychological thriller, is Robin Williams' redemption as a screen actor. We can forgive him now for What Dreams May Come and Death to Smoochy. He brings everything he has learned in a long career to the role of Sy Parrish, lab tech at the One Hour Photo kiosk in SavMart, a facsimile of all we've come to fear, loathe and perversely inhabit in Big Box America.

Sy's a loner, a quirkly, squeaky-clean guy immaculately groomed in his button-down shirts and Sansabelt slacks. But we know he's a freak capable of criminal behavior since the film opens with his interrogation by a kindly cop played by Eriq LaSalle (TV's Dr. Benton, ER), and because we've seen the previews.

As Sy develops the film of the Yorkins, an attractive Yuppie family who look as if they walked out of a Ralph Lauren Polo ad, he also develops a crush on their lives -- loving, envying and even imagining himself as a participant in their snapshot-perfect holidays, birthday celebrations and everyday romps in their picture-perfect home. When that desperate affection meets head-on with disillusionment, Sy cracks up and Papa Yorkin (Michael Vartan) becomes the target of all of his pent-up wrath.

Director Mark Romanek, best known as video director for Nine Inch Nails, sets a spare, modern, intentionally sterile scene where life is played out on a thin surface -- like skating on ice. The cheery landscape of family photographs is analyzed nicely and provides a suitably deluded simulation of family life for Sy. The musical score by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek works exceptionally well, combining a chilly minor-key broken chord on the piano with occasional Muzak and some disconcerting rhythms that drive the action.

The story turns out to be a little thin and the ending unnecessarily ambiguous, attempting a Hitchcockian turn that stops short of shocking or even surprising us. But One Hour Photo is an interesting enough character study to sustain interest and create suspense. Romanek is heavy and a little too obvious with the visual and verbal symbolism (Sy's real name is Seymour, read: see more; the Yorkins, your kin) but he more than compensates with strong camera work.

In one scene, a cheerful Sy strides down a long SavMart aisle, the camera in his face as his mood darkens, step by step. It's a chilling, wordless moment that sets the scene for what's to come, easing the audience out of complacency. It's a director's moment and, undoubtedly, one of Robin Williams' finest moments.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Chapel Hills, Tinseltown

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