"Ah, Mr Williams, sir. How are you? Good, good. New hat is it, sir? Yes, I couldn't help but notice your 'Wacky Manchild' and `Inspirational Mentor' hats are quite battered now. Let's see... How about this? We call this the `Lonely Nutter'. If I may just... Yes. There. That fits perfectly, don't you think?"
After his creepy turn in Insomnia (see page 126), Robin Williams receives top billing for his deliberately disturbing new persona in One Hour Photo, the feature debut of music video director Mark Romanek. This low-key thriller sees Williams playing clinically neat photo-counter guy Seymour "Sy" Parrish. With no friends, family or outside interests, Sy latches on to regular customers Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), her nine-year-old son Jake (Dylan Smith) and her husband Will (Michael Vartan). But, as his fantasies of joining their family start to invade his everyday life, his fixation darkens.
Told mainly in flashback, with Sy as narrator, One Hour Photo is largely a one-man show, and with the help of Romanek's artful direction, which slowly cranks up the tension Blood Simple-style, Williams pulls it off. It's a complex cocktail of a character, part villain, part victim, part black-comic relief, a tightly packed bundle of sympathies and neuroses wrapped in carefully pressed beiges, creams and pale blues. The effective result is enough to get you squirming.
The problem is, despite Williams' ability to carry it, One Hour Photo's plot is very much a one-strand affair, which does make it feel like a short stretched to feature length. Sure, it means we get plenty of time to delve deeper and deeper into this screwed-up character, but come the climax you may feel we've actually delved a little too deep, that too much mystery has been stripped away. But anyone still dubious about Williams' new career direction should rest easy. Between them, One Hour Photo and Insomnia prove he wears his new hat well. Let's just hope he doesn't wear it out, too...
The concept's stretched too thin, but thanks to Mark Romanek's chilly atmospherics and Robin Williams' discomforting performance, it never snaps. Creepy and disturbing.