The job of the critic is often a thankless one. What with many people regarding us as the bottom-feeders of the cinema world, whose very existence is pretentious, we’d have every right to feel a bit put out.
But, the reason a critic criticises in the first place is almost universally because of their love of cinema, we must love something to write incessantly about it and take all the hate the world throws at us. I’d like to say we sometimes make a positive difference by exposing bad films, but history has taught us that the average cinema-going crowd couldn’t give a toss what we think and just want to see big things exploding.
For me, one of the great thrills of being a film critic is casting a light on lesser known films while the big releases are eating up everyone’s pay-checks, which brings me nicely to One Hour Photo.
Robin Williams is unquestionably one of my favourite people of all time. Not only a phenomenally gifted comedic performer, he showed himself to be one of the best actors of his generation at frequent intervals, and while his performances in such films as Good Will Hunting and Good Morning, Vietnam are rightfully praised, there are also a lot of hidden gems in his back catalogue, and this one is a particular stand out for me.
Sy Parrish (Williams) works at the photo development department of a big supermarket. An incredibly lonely man, he starts to fantasise about an ideal life with a family whose pictures he develops, but things soon take a dark turn as he discovers that they may not be as perfect as they seem.
One of William’s greatest attributes was his ability to dis-arm an audience with a performance. To an entire generation, he was Mork, the quirky alien from the Happy Days spin-off, then he went to Hollywood and re- invented himself as somewhat of an under appreciated ‘chameleon’.
I’ve used the term chameleon before in my reviews, and it refers to a performer able to transform the self into a specific role, think of Christian Bale, and all the times he’s gained and lost weight in preparation for a role. Williams was not on that level, but his ability to blend into different cinematic backgrounds was uncanny.
There’s a kind of vulnerability to his character, Sy Parrish, that manages to make him sinister, yet sympathetic. You are creeped out by his obsessive stalking of the Yorkin family, but then you get a glimpse of his solitary home life and that momentarily melts away into pity. You come to realise that he may have problems, but his biggest problem is his loneliness.
For me, this performance ranks among Williams’ best turns, the ability for such an innately loveable performer to transform himself into a character who actively makes the audience uncomfortable is a rare talent. It shows a deeper range in his acting ability that maybe he was ever given credit for, and it takes you by surprise on first viewing.
It’s not just Robin Williams who steals the show however, but the writing and directing too, building Sy as a character was not solely on Williams but in the writing as well, the way that his life is a delusion built purely around photographs is built and paced spectacularly, building a mystery to him that we never fully unravel.
It’s also a film that never outstays it’s welcome, building a thick level of tension over just the right time period, and paying it off in a way that exposes Sy’s paranoia and obsession. It hits the sweet spot for tension in films in that it never feels over-long, or that too much time is spent on any one thing, and it peaks with an appropriate explosion of madness that serves both character and story.
I won’t say it’s a perfect film, there are perhaps a few moments of over-indulgence throughout the run time, and not as much time is given to exploring the Yorkin family to make us invest in their troubles, so their conflict kind of comes out of nowhere. But it does juxtapose nicely with Sy’s perfect vision of their life, so maybe that is in service of the story as a whole.
Unfortunately, this film is largely forgotten today, it wasn’t a massive hit at the time either, and rarely gets a mention in the conversation about Williams’ best performances, which I think is a real shame, given the layers and complexity that make Sy Parrish the intriguing character that he is. It represents a change of pace for him, and shows us that more than anything, he had the ability to surprise, as well as the ability to make us laugh.