Tag Archives: One Hour Photo

Dead Poets Society (1989)

This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a double feature of Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.

Robin Williams was an actor who selected his film roles very carefully. Despite his ironclad station as the greatest American comedian of his time, Williams acted in drama nearly as much as he did in comedy. One need only look to the shy Dr. Sayer of Awakenings or to the chilling villains of One Hour Photo or Insomnia to see the acting mastery Williams commanded.

On the surface, John Keating of Dead Poets Society and Sean McGuire of Good Will Hunting are two more of these “serious” roles that broke the mold for Williams the comic. There is no doubt that both helped to establish him as a master thespian regardless of genre. He was nominated for Academy Awards for both roles and won Best Supporting Actor for the latter, beating out the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Robert Forster.

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One Hour Photo (2002)

The eyes of Sy Parrish deserve a spot alongside the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in the hallowed Eye Symbolism Hall of Fame. Over the course of One Hour Photo we become increasingly aware of the fact that Sy, lonely photo tech at the local SavMart, is always peering into other lives, always consuming with his gaze, always watching. His eyes are obviously as much a part of his “hunting” arsenal as his camera – but they also provide a look back the other way into Sy’s dark and tortured soul.

Robin Williams is brilliant with dramatic material (see Awakenings, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, etc.), but the actor on display in One Hour Photo is a being unlike anything else in the extensive Robin Williams filmography. Sy the Photo Guy is a creep sure enough, a stalker of the first degree, and with a guy as manic and riffy and fantastically off-the-wall as Williams in the role you’d think Sy would be likewise larger-than-life. Not so. The opposite is in fact true – Sy is impossibly withdrawn, deadly quiet, suspiciously reserved as he observes and interacts with a couple and their son whenever they get their photos developed. The fact that we know Williams as a massive screen presence only makes the silences of this turn more unsettling.

And director Mark Romanek deserves as much credit for that as Williams, because the entirety of One Hour Photo is a spare but deceptively rich character study. Romanek has stuck mainly to music videos (and made the greatest music video of all time, Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”) but will hopefully create a film as quality as this in the near future. It’s Romanek’s direction and framing that calls attention to the deeper aspects of Sy’s psyche, in particular through a few key shots and sequences concerning the watchful eyes of Sy Parrish.

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