[box cover]

One Hour Photo

Watch a substantial amount of stand-up comedy, and you'll soon realize that there's a very fine line between funny and scary. The same manic energy that gives many of the best comics their edge — think Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, and, of course, Robin Williams — often seems just one or two responsive audiences away from degenerating into frantic desperation. That deep-seated need to please, to be appreciated and in the spotlight, can produce peerless performers... or, for those lacking a constructive outlet, something a lot darker. Perhaps because of that risk, many comics seem compelled to explore the dark-side dynamic, gleefully tapping into their inner psychos on the big screen. Carrey did it memorably in The Cable Guy, and in 2002, Williams did it in both Insomnia and, indelibly, in One Hour Photo. A character study masquerading as a chilling psychological thriller, the latter offers the hirsute funny man one of his best roles to date — and the chance to prove that even when he's not "on," he's still on. Williams steps into a sterile, washed-out existence to play One Hour Photo's central character, Seymour "Sy the Photo Guy" Parrish — the reigning king of the photo-processing counter at the Savmart mega-drugstore. Lonely and unnoticed in his personal life, Sy takes an inordinate amount of pride in his work, treating each of the prints he makes as a minor work of art. He lives vicariously through his customers, particularly the Yorkin family: mom Nina, (Connie Nielsen), dad Will (Alias eye-candy Michael Vartan), and their son Jake (Dylan Smith). Entranced by 10 years' worth of the Yorkins' happy snapshots, Sy imagines their life as a Norman Rockwell-like ideal; they have all the love, fulfillment, and togetherness he's always wanted and has never had. As his fantasies get out of hand, Sy's interest in the Yorkins becomes an obsession — and when he discovers a crack in their cheerful façade, his heart breaks. Unfortunately, his feelings of betrayal lead to anger and resentment, which is when the film gets really creepy....

*          *          *

In crafting Sy's decline into madness, writer/director Mark Romanek, a music-video veteran, proves equally adept at structuring a larger, more complex story. The way he doles out bits and pieces of information about both Sy and the Yorkins, slowly building up to the film's big revelations, is a lesson in suspense; like M. Night Shyamalan, Romanek knows that the smallest, most mundane props and details can offer the biggest shocks and inspire the greatest fear. The audience doesn't decide that Sy is scary because they're told he is — they just gradually realize that anyone so hungry for recognition and significance who goes home to a hamster futilely sprinting on its wheel is bound to go postal sooner or later (and then they see the photo wall, but that's something else entirely...). Credit should go to Williams for making Sy's transition into lunacy an almost sympathetic event. For most of the movie, Sy isn't nearly as threatening as he is pathetic; Williams prevents him from becoming truly pitiable by allowing the audience well-timed glimpses of his character's inner delusions. But most notably, as Sy, Williams successfully does something he's never really been able to accomplish before: He disappears. And not just because his dyed-blond hair and pale skin blend into the carefully stylized (and wonderfully ominous) sets; Williams becomes Sy, letting the photo clerk's quiet desperation and determination subdue the motor-mouthed mania he's known for. Yes, the erstwhile Mork has done plenty of other serious roles, but he's never quite made us forget his inner Morkness before. For that alone, One Hour Photo would be worth watching; the fact that it's a thoroughly chilling modern thriller is like getting a second set of prints for free. Almost as nice is Fox's DVD treatment of the film; the anamorphic transfer (1.85: 1) is beautiful and lends to the movie's stark palette, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio showcases Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek's spooky score nicely, and the extras list is fairly meaty. Highlights include a low-key, informative commentary track with Romanek and Williams, two "making-of' featurettes (one from Cinemax, the other part of the Sundance "Anatomy of a Scene" series), Romanek and Williams' appearance on "The Charlie Rose Show," trailers, and TV spots. Additional options include Spanish and French DD tracks and English and Spanish subtitles. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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