2002, US, Directed by Mark Romanek
Colour, Running Time: 92 minutes
DVD, Region 2, Fox, Video: Anamorphic 1.85:1, Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
People who process film in photography shops are probably the most harmless you can imagine - I should know because I worked in one myself about twenty years ago. We were all pretty geeky and quite feeble for the most part and that’s almost exactly how Sy Parrish could be described in the early stages of One Hour Photo. He’s obsessively meticulous about his responsibility for customer’s photographs, ensuring their quality is maintained to (largely unnoticeable) high standards and the machines kept up to required specification. The only trouble is that he also takes extra sets of prints for himself to place on the wall at home, mostly of a family he has become enamoured with to a point way beyond mere fascination. He envies the beauty of their togetherness while his isolation is almost suffocating, therefore he develops a coping strategy imagining that he’s actually part of their family. Then his grip on things begins to slip: his boss finds out that the figures aren’t matching the number of photos that have apparently been produced and, in attempt to protect him and his own family, he lets Sy go telling him to finish off the week. To add to Sy’s turmoil he finds that Nina, the mother of the family he’s become fixated with, is being cheated on by her husband Will - a young woman brings some photos into Sy’s store that give the game away. Making efforts to get the secret out, perhaps so Nina might take more than a platonic glance at him, Sy swaps the prints brought in by Nina with those of the young whore who Will is mating with. When things don’t quite go as he expected them to his conscious torment is externalised and some sort of personal revenge on Will is executed.
The film is almost exclusively a character study; an analysis of Sy’s interaction with a world he’s internally at odds with, a glimpse of the immediate world around him and how it affects his life whilst simultaneously outlining the effect that he attempts to have on the world. In most respects he simply wants what’s considered to be normality, to be part of a family and actually be loved in a conventional manner, but the whole idealistic dream is evasive in the extreme and destined to be unattainable. Sometimes perhaps the faults hardwired into a brain cannot be repaired, such is the delicacy of our upbringings. He has also possibly allowed himself to fall in love with Nina, this fuelling the anger he feels when he finds out her husband is having an affair - something he’d never do. Plus Nina and Will have a young boy who he imagines himself being an uncle to and an unfulfilled attempt to give the boy a gift only adds to the anguish that builds towards his eventual loss of control. By the film’s conclusion we come to understand a little about Sy’s history and why he is psychologically unstable and desperate to the extreme, this delineation of character putting the viewer in a situation where they face empathising with a person who would have caused abhorrence had they been merely read about him and his crime in the newspaper or the like. The fact that such sympathy is elicited (at least in those capable of such a response) should send an appropriately sensible message about the nature of human evils: monsters are less likely to be born than made, usually by other monsters. Undoubtedly it will still be difficult for some to accept something which prevents them from expressing narrow-minded hatred for that which they don’t have the time, patience, or capability to understand but director Romanek makes a very potent point and this social commentary is in no small terms aided by Robin Williams’ riveting performance against expected type as Sy.
The Fox DVD presents an image with strong colours that’s consistently attractive to view. Alongside that is a 5.1 track that is subtle for the most part but making extremely effective use of the pulsing score. A sentient movie that makes a powerful statement while weaving fascinating character observation and evolution along the way.