Sitting still for a One Hour Photo
You remember 12 Monkeys? Well, this film has nothing to do with 12 Monkeys, except that 12 Monkeys is based on a French short film called La Jete that is composed entirely of still images. Despite the fact that we never see a moving image, we do see movement. Our brains naturally infer it.In contrast, One Hour Photo takes moving characters and freezes them. Director Mark Romanek inundates the viewer with photographs and scenes in which either the characters or the camera are not moving. Overall, you get the feeling you’re being led through a museum, specifically an exhibit on “Alienation” done by a third-year art student.The cinematography is very good; the plot a photo developer who falls in love with a family through their pictures is clever; and the actors are well cast, but the absence of motion in a motion picture, inferred or otherwise, is tiring.The character in study, Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), gets more angry, more sad, and more psychotic throughout the film, but we never learn enough about him to empathize with him. Williams does an excellent job trying to make Sy three-dimensional, but Romanek’s direction stifles the effort.In the scenes where Williams is given a chance to interact with other characters, he excels, bringing a pathos and desperation to the character that hints at humanness, but these moments are few and far between and Romanek cuts them off early and/or slices them up into one-shots (we see Sy, we see the manager, we see Sy, we see the manager, etc.). There are ways to express distance between characters and keep them in the same shot.The Yorkin family (Michael Varten, Connie Nielsen, and Dylan Smith), whose photographs Parrish has been developing for nine years, is even more one-dimensional, remaining dry, white toast from beginning to end. Despite their encounter with a psychopath, hardly an everyday occurrence, no change whatsoever is rendered in their family dynamic.Typically, the saving grace of horror and thriller films is how the evil character seems to punish the people who deserve it most, causing us to root for him/her/it, while bringing out the heroic aspects of the protagonists. One Hour Photo is slick enough to attempt to blur that line, but not sharp enough to re-organize the pixels.Romanek wants us to sympathize with Sy and with the wayward member of the Yorkin family while simultaneously condemning the actions of both. He wants to reinforce family values while also blaming them for failing individuals.What results is a film that says nothing, except that some people are lonely and some aren’t; some people do very bad things and some don’t; and isn’t it funny that photo developers get to look at amateur pornography?If you’re really interested by the plot and you want to see a movie about a man on the fringe of society driven to extreme behavior, go rent Taxi Driver.
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