Sunday, August 26, 2018

One Of The Most Chilling Robin Williams Performances Is Showcased In The Unnerving Feature One Hour Photo

In the age of YouTube and Vevo (though aren't they both technically one and the same now?), music videos have seen a modern-day resurgence now that the modern-day music video typically takes cues from the best examples of the artform in decades past as famous artists star in short films that expand upon the themes found in the lyrics of a specific song. In this resurgence, director Mark Romanek, who helmed, has returned to helming music videos after a nearly decade-long absence after directing some of the most famous music videos of the 1990's and early 2000's. Romanek may be most famous for his music video work, but he's also dabbled in directing feature films and his 2002 motion picture One Hour Photo shows he also has skill in this arena of filmmaking as well.

One Hour Photo, which Romanek wrote in addition to directing, tells the tale of Seymour Parrish (Robin Williams), a guy who spends his days working at a one-hour photo center in a grocery store. He's incredibly skilled at his job, he knows just how to perfect the tiniest detail in any photo to ensure that the colors pop. He may excel with photos, but in his personal life, Parrish is a lonely guy, with no family or friends to call his own. Because of this, he's latched onto a family, the Yorkins, who've been loyal customers of his photo center for years to the point that it's now an obsession, he is consumed with the idea of being a permanent part of their seemingly perfect family.

Parrish trying to become closer to the family coincides with the families father/husband figure Will (Michael Vartan) engaging in an affair that threatens to ruin the family and Parrish just won't have that. Parrish, as said before, is portrayed by Robin Williams, one of a number of darker roles the actor took on at the dawn of the 21st century (Insomnia and Death To Smoochy are other notable examples of this) and it's always impressive to me just how convincing Williams is in these type of bleak parts considering what an outsized light-hearted comedic persona he had. The same guy who could fill a room with his comedic energy in the likes of Mrs. Doubtfire could also shrink down and plausibly portray such a quietly creepy individual like Parrish.

Part of what makes Williams so good at a character like Parrish is he's able to make this photo worker emanate an uneasy presence with his disturbing fixation on the Yorkins but he also comes across as a believably average human being in his everyday behavior, to the point that he could pass through a crowd of people without being thought of as exceptionally peculiar (this was a trait he also utilized in Insomnia so well). Williams knows how to make this guy set your heart racing in more subtle ways rather than going over-the-top and breaking the grounded atmosphere of One Hour Photo in a manner that really pushes this performance over into the territory of being something truly special even by the high standards of acting Williams set for himself.

There's also a number of visual choices throughout One Hour Photo that, like the performance from Robin Williams, work as reflections of conventional life while still conveying a sense of unease. The look of the store Parrish works at is especially good at being quietly unnerving, the place looks like any old Costco or Sam's Club, but it's all too perfect looking, it's all so shiny and chrome like it's the Krusty Krab from the future segments of the SpongeBob SquarePants episode SB-129. It's a place intentionally devoid of human imperfections to a chilling degree and its sheer vastness (which is highlighted in a gruesome dream sequence Parrish has) makes it feel like a void that sucks in everything around it.

Both Romanek's writing and directing convey a real sense of unnerving creepiness that's compelling as hell to watch. If there's any big flaw in his screenplay, it's that I wish we got more elements of personality from the three individual members of the Yorkin family, giving more depth to these characters could have given an actor like Connie Nielsen (who plays Nina Yorkin) something more to do. In all fairness, it's likely them remaining just thinly-sketched individuals throughout One Hour Photo is meant to be a reflection of how Parrish see's them as just a means of filling a void in his life rather than seeing them as people. That would make sense given just how much time One Hour Photo spends effectively exploring the fractured and disturbed mind of its lead character who is brought to life by one of Robin William's most chilling performances.

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