Well, the era of mass market “indie” films is upon us. In spite of its manufactured artfulness, “One Hour Photo” does have appeal: Robin Williams portrays a stereotypical damaged post-modernist psychopath with a flourish of reality that does him credit as an actor, and writer/director Mark Romanek is a fresh face on the Hollywood scene. Supporting cast Paul Kim and David Moreland step out of Wal-Mart and onto the screen – spectacular characterizations. Connie Neilsen and Michael Vartan, however, give at best stilted …erformances as the objects of Robin William’s obsession. Which brings us to a synopsis…
Robin Williams plays “Sy the photo guy,” who is a “SavMart” employee that’s developed an unhealthy obsession with a particular family whose film he develops. Without spoiling the film, Sy ends up seeking to exact justice on the father, attempts to befriend the child, and generally goes nuts as I’ve always expected someone at a big box discount retailer to eventually do. The upshot is that a creative premise (the photo guy doing arm’s length stalking) is bludgeoned to death by a screen play that leaves little to the imagination, and plot twists that are so “done” and clichéd as to completely erase any credibility the movie had. The film is worth seeing for Robin William’s work – he is fantastic at humanizing Sy in sad and pitiful ways, and its one of the film’s greatest ironies that damaged Sy is the must “human” thing among the sterile ranks of SavMart.
As a DVD release, One Hour Photo packs great video and audio with an equally well-chosen selection of value-added special features for a non-Special Edition release. Regular special feature staples (Sundance, Charlie Rose) really seemed to come together for this movie and do exceptional work. While I’m not the biggest fan of the movie, it is definitely worth owning for Robin Williams fans (class assignment: compare and contrast Robin William’s villain roles in One Hour Photo and Insomnia), and die-hard fans of psychological thrillers of which this may not be the best, but still counts itself a member.
The widescreen edition reviewed offered superb video with a very clean transfer and lovely colors. Lovely? Yes. Saturation, contrast, and tone all come through perfectly to capture director Romanek’s bleak assessment of big box stores, and the idyllic sepia-toned lives of the people that shop there.
I would describe this as a quite movie – the trailer for “The Dancer Upstairs” in the special features made better use of surrounds and subwoofers. Nonetheless, the 5.1 audio mastering and surround mix do a good job of creating different ambiances for different sets and render the morose brooding score exceptionally – just don’t expect to be blown away by an overall subtle audio mix.
This disc has a great, high quality selection of features – I can honestly say that there is little or no fluff present. The best part is to watch writer and director Mark Romanek contradict himself in different interviews (Cinemax vs. Sundance): in one, the inspiration for One Hour Photo was 1970’s “alienation” films; in another, he attributes the movie to a preoccupation with Wal-Mart. Hmmmmm. Note – this isn’t a complaint (I’m not that picky), just a funny observation.
Commentary: This commentary features Mark Romanek (director and writer), and Robin Williams. Surprisingly, Robin Williams is unassuming at best – oddly quiet and unresponsive given his generally explosive personality. Overall it is a decent commentary – Romanek has lots of interesting production stories to share. The commentary is marred by the usually long silences and Williams’ strange reticence, however.
Cinemax Making-Of Featurette: Usually these making-of featurettes are fluffy pieces created to assure producers that there money has produced quality work more than anything else. Cinemax breaks the mold, however. Nothing earth-shattering, but worth a watch.
Charlie Rose Show: Once you get past the asinine chatter and lame jokes, this TV interview with Williams and Romanek is again worth watching. Rose grates after a while, but not before some interesting topics are raised. Note that Romanek is never allowed to stand on his own: Robin Williams is always present adding star power to to the movie’s promotion. Call me cynical, but this seems pretty crass – Romanek wrote and directed, for crying out loud – give the guy a chance to speak on his own for once. Not that I’m knocking Williams, but its pretty obvious who everyone’s there to see.
Sundance: Anatomy of Scene: Ahhhh, the Sundance Channel. Noteable for serving up over-produced, under-substanced un-documentaries, Sundance manages to come through here too with a very watchable piece. Romanek has lots of interesting things to say about the use of color, lighting, and saturation – worth watching.
Trailers and TV Spots: The trailers for this movie are absolutely the most misleading pieces of Hollywood hype-crap that I’ve ever seen. The trailers and tv-spots are montages of Robin Williams screaming, smashing through doors, running, more screaming, cops with guns, people getting beaten, etc. While all of this does happen in the movie, it takes place in about the last 3.5 minutes. These trailers create a terrible false expectation for this film that certainly led to some cognitive dissonance on my part, and probably those of many others as well. There’s also a trailer for “The Dancer Upstairs” – another Fox Searchlight production, apparently a political drama in South America. Looks watchable – be sure to take a minute and watch the trailer.
While I was marginally disappointed by the movie, it is certainly still worth seeing for Robin William’s superb acting and Romanek’s fresh (if jaundiced) interpretations of everyday life. A competent movie is bolstered in this release by a well executed stable of extras that fans of the movie will enjoy greatly. I would expect to see a Special Edition with a fancy audio track and interesting Memento-esque packaging in the future.
Special Features List
- TV Spots and Trailers
- Charlie Rose Show Interview
- Director and Actor Commentary
- Cinemax Making-Of Featurette
- Sundance Anatomy of a Scene