I grew up with Robin Williams movies in a way, watching him on the telly with his Mork and Mindy series when I was a kid, and following almost all his films should they make it to the big screen here. Everyone knows he's quite the live wire comedian, so it's probably groundbreaking each time he gravitates towards more dramatic, serious fare such as Dead Poets Society and The Night Listener, with even rarer turns as negative characters, such as that in Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, and One Hour Photo.
Written and directed by Mark Romanek, the film has as a central character, somebody in the background, easily forgotten, never a hero and frankly someone that we don't really care about unless we know them personally prior. Robin Williams junks his jokey side, and plays a quiet loner who works at a megamart as the one-hour photo lab tech guy who processes your photographs. Yes it's Year 2002, so cameras of the digital type were not that prevalent, and surely a film with a premise of this nature probably can no longer use this setting because it doesn't exist, at least not in a widespread manner. If you, like me, have seen the demise of this part of the photo industry, may have a tinge of sadness since you're likely to have built up some keen rapport with the person who through the development of your film, likely to have entered your personal circle of trust.
And part of the brilliance of the film is how detailed it is to show how films were processed back then, from the small film roll into negatives on which photographs get printed on. William's Seymour "Sy" Parrish narrates this delicate process, which tells us his personality and his approach in life, chillingly meticulous and taking pride in his profession to deliver the best of his services, where memorizing facts and figures of his customers seem to be part of his edge in delivering customer service, never betraying that hint of misappropriation where he siphons off extra prints of the Yorkin family photos to feed his obsession.
Working 11 years on the same job, he has seen the Yorkins - husband Will (Michael Vartan), wife Nina (Connie Nielsen) and son Jakob (Dylan Smith) grow in the community, and they soon become his family of choice, a unit that he craves for but knows he has missed the boat and can never enjoy what this family has in its ties. So the next best thing is to creepily collect mementos, and plots to be as close as he can to members of the family, stalking Nina even and trying extremely hard to connect at any level through a little bit of ingenious social engineering.
A lesser story will have this degenerate into something of the Fatal Attraction kind, exploiting Sy's loneliness into something dangerous and threatening the family direct. But here's where Romanek's story succeeds in providing a breath of fresh air, where that tinge of danger becomes a suspenseful thriller, keeping us constantly wondering just what sort of edge does Sy get pushed over, and rolling his disgraceful past into the mix as well in one fell swoop, in desiring his utopia of what a family is to be maintained at that virginal level, keeping it perfect.
It didn't go down the road of the mediocre or the typical, but kept things open especially in the final moments of conversation between Sy and detective Van Der Zee (Eriq La Salle), where we get the rug pulled from under our feet, yet allowing things to swing either way, depending on whether we desire to sympathize with Sy, or prefer that it be something more bleak than it already is. One thing's for sure though, with the advent of technology, the potential for something like this has moved from the photo-studio where a select few employees have privy to the photos you send for development, or this gets unwittingly revealed through the lack of securing our digital photos on social networking sites.
Robin Williams is a one man tour de force, and he disappears effortlessly into the role, hidden behind the shy, lonely facade, becoming somewhat of an an eerie avenging angel type who sees his utopia being destroyed, and wants to do something about it. And the misc-en-scene gets carefully crafted to support this, from the music, sets and the spot on creation of mood that gets to crawl under your skin. His performance alone is astounding, and he totally owned the role and made this film come alive. Watch this to see what Robin Williams can do outside of comedy, and for Mark Romanek story and dare in taking Williams out of his comfort zone. Recommended!
The Region 1 DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen transfer with audio available in English 5.1 Surround, Spanish or French Surround. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish, and Scene Selection is over 32 chapters. Special features though are presented in letterbox format only.
Those expecting an energetic session in the Commentary by Mark Romanek and Robin Williams since Robin Williams is in it, may be disappointed. The two, while sharing tons of nuggets of what happened during the making of, and recount anecdotes or memories from the set, were actually quite boring to listen to, sounding very academic most times, and dead serious. If only they had lightened it a lot more, but hey, this is a serious movie after all.
The Cinemax Featurette (13:21) turns out to be the making of featurette, where we have the writer and director Mark Romanek talks about the idea behind the story which comes from a fascination from the megamart, and contains the usual behind the scenes look at the production. Plenty of interviews here with the cast, and we get to see the tremendous comedy Robin Williams breaks into in between or during takes, since he has to suppress his gregarious character most of the time when in character.
For those who miss the Robin Williams we associate with comedy, then you must check out the Charlie Rose Show (35:54), where Charlie Rose interviews Robin Williams and Mark Romanek on his show for the promotion of the film. We'd get to see how much of a live wire he is, and even Charlie Rose himself gets into the act with his jolly repertoire opposite Williams, which somehow leaves the director quite loss and alienated from the merry-making where the other two just took the entire session away.
Sundance: Anatomy of a Scene (27:50) is another making of documentary type, with the filmmakers and cast talking about their characters, the subtexts in the film, plus some rehearsal footage as well, primarily centered around the moment where Williams' Sy meets up with Will Yorkin (Michael Vartan) for the first time in the store, and the entire thought and creative process that had gone behind this scene to make it layered and powerful.
Rounding off the special features are the Theatrical Trailer (2:12) and The Dancer Upstairs (2:09), followed by TV Spots for the film titled After Hours (0:32), Psycho (0:33) and One Hour Photo (0:18), with a play all function.