Robin Williams is making amends for Patch Adams and Bicentennial Man, films in which he sold out his talent.This year he's given the best dramatic performances of his career, playing a murderer who turns the tables on Al Pacino in Insomnia and a lonely photo clerk who covets the lives of a seemingly perfect family in One Hour Photo.
In One Hour Photo, Williams is Sy Parrish, the anal-retentive photo developer who's been handling the Yorkin family's photos for years. Mom Nina (Connie Nielsen), dad Will (Michael Vartan) and son Jake (Dylan Smith) are beautiful and rich and live in a Brentwood, California, dream home.
Meanwhile, Sy lives alone in a drab apartment, friendless and relying on a huge wall of Yorkin photos to keep him company. When Will does something he disapproves of, Sy quietly goes batty and seeks to destroy the family.
Writer/director Mark Romanek says he wanted to make a "lonely man" film like those made during the 70s: Taxi Driver, The Conversation, The Tenant and The Passenger.
You can see Romanek working that vein. This is a slow-paced character drama that takes its time setting up and then setting loose its creepy anti-hero. The script is tight and the performances solid, but there isn't a moment of surprise here. We know Williams is gonna crack, and we're pretty sure how.
This isn't to say the film is boring. It's a treat to see Williams throw himself into a role that screams "loser." His bleached hair has an icky yellowish-blond tint, his rayon slacks hug his hips, and his glasses fall down on his nose in just the right nerdy way. Williams becomes Sy, and that's the reason to see One Hour Photo.
Yet I prefer his less showy but riskier performance in Insomnia, where he has no props to hide behind. Using just his features and that waddle-like gait that's part Chaplin , part drag queen swish, he shows us the banal face of evil.
ONE HOUR PHOTO written and directed by Mark Romanek, produced by Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler and Stan Wlodkowski, with Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan and Gary Cole. 98 minutes. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. 0pens Friday (August 23). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 77. Rating: NNN