One Hour Photo

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One Hour Photo

As a department-store sociopath in One Hour Photo, Robin Williams looks like a laboratory animal that draws all its nutrients from fluorescent light, which has gradually turned its pallid skin a shade closer to albino. If that's not pathetic enough, there's more: his receding hairline, the mauve polyester suit that climbs up his ankles, the cheap Velcro shoes, the bare one-room apartment, the emasculating compact car. Like a malevolent Peter Sellers with his garden in Being There, the snapshot-obsessed Williams isn't depicted as a real person, but as the catalyst of a larger social message—in this case, the standard-issue rot under suburbia's pristine surface. Stationed behind the same Savmart photo-development counter for 20 years, Williams sees the community as it would like to imagine itself, with happy families celebrating birthdays, holidays, and vacations together. ("No one takes a photograph of something they want to forget," he observes in the heavy voiceover narration.) Writer-director Mark Romanek has come up with a clever idea for a thriller, casting Williams as the blank, impassive bogeyman who exposes the distance between what the suburbs would like to be and what they really are. But the young family Williams stalks turns out to be just as thinly realized and artificial as he is, a blandly dysfunctional unit that could stand in for any other family on the block. Perhaps that was Romanek's intention, but pitting one bald symbol against another doesn't make for the most incisive social commentary. Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, and 9-year-old son Dylan Smith are a seemingly perfect family that leaves its film rolls with "the photo guy" at Savmart. On the basis of years of customer-service niceties, Williams fantasizes about being their "uncle," and keeps a shrine of their photographs on his apartment wall. Things get out of hand when he stumbles upon the source of marital problems between Nielsen and Vartan, and his moral revulsion leads him to intervene. Widely admired as a music-video director, with credits that include Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" and Michael Jackson's "Scream," Romanek brings the same shot-by-shot precision to One Hour Photo, which has a clean, antiseptic chilliness reminiscent of a Kubrick film. But too often, the director's stark visuals underline the naked simplicity of his story and make his picture of the suburbs seem hopelessly generic, like a glossy composite of other films on the subject. Romanek tries to find the poignancy to his stalker's needy psychosis, but he only makes him look pathetic and unreal, which is due partly to Williams' mannered performance and partly to his character's fussy, overwrought conception. One Hour Photo sets him loose like a creature without a concrete place to roam.