‘One Hour Photo’ exposes one man’s shattered psyche

August 29, 2012

During the short prologue of the 2002 feature One Hour Photo, a detective sits down in an interrogation room with Sy Parrish. What, the officer asks the sad-sack loner across the table, did Will Yorkin do to get you so upset?

The rest of this gripping 90-minute movie is dedicated to answering that question — and to explaining just what Parrish ended up doing to Yorkin. It’s soon evident that Parrish’s psyche is as badly cracked as the windshield of his car, and writer-director Mark Romanek does a masterful job of developing suspense as the main character moves closer and closer to the breaking point.

Will Yorkin is a handsome and successful young businessman with a picture-perfect life. He and Parrish have never met, but the latter is intimately acquainted — or so he believes — with Yorkin, his lovely wife, Nina, and their adorable 9-year-old son, Jake.

For more than a decade, Nina has brought all of the family’s film to be developed at the “Sav-Mart” discount store photo lab that Parrish runs. To fill the void in his life, the friendless Parrish has obsessively collected, framed and mounted the Yorkins’ vacation, birthday and other snapshots over the years. He drives by their sprawling modern house and pictures himself as good old “Uncle Sy,” someone who has a place in their hearts and lives.

Sy’s boss, Bill, knows that something is amiss with his buttoned-down photo lab manager; he warns Sy to shape up, but it doesn’t help. As Sy’s life spins out of control, he works harder and harder to insinuate himself into Nina, Will and Jake’s hearts. And when he discovers that the Yorkin family isn’t as perfect as he thought, it seems Sy might stop at nothing.

The film methodically and efficiently builds an air of dread without resorting to melodrama. There is at least one minor plot hole — a suspenseful late sequence should feature a few more police officers or security guards knocking on doors — but that’s a quibble.

Romanek gets excellent performances from all of his actors, led by Robin Williams as Parrish. (His acting here prefigures his lead role in The Final Cut, an underrated 2004 science fiction drama in which he also portrayed an emotionally vacant man with a professional interest in images.) Other featured players are Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan as the Yorkin parents and Dylan Smith as their son, Gary Cole as Sy’s boss and Eriq La Salle as the lead detective.

The conclusion to One Hour Photo contains some fascinating revelations but, pleasingly, it also leaves a few questions unanswered. All in all, it’s a superb film.

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