Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan
Director: Mark Romanek
Running Time: 96 mins
One Hour Photo is an American film about a supermarket photo developer who develops an obsession with a well-meaning local family, taking his excessive attachment to unsettling lengths.
Standing strong throughout with a strikingly unsettling atmosphere, there’s no denying that One Hour Photo is a captivating and unnerving watch. With a fantastic lead performance from Robin Williams and powerful direction from Mark Romanek, it’s an eye-catching thriller, albeit not one that manages to get your heart racing to quite the degree it hopes to.
But let’s start off with the film’s strengths, the biggest of which has to be just how eerie and unnerving it feels throughout. Helped by a daunting musical score and cleverly plotted pacing, One Hour Photo unfurls at an unsettling patient rate, slowly bubbling and boiling into the deranged thriller that you might not expect at first.
But it’s the film’s early stages that really hit home strongest. While the story evolves throughout, the strikingly unnerving atmosphere in the midst of a seemingly normal series of events is by far the most striking part of the film.
Centring on a seemingly kindly supermarket assistant who develops a bond with his customers at a photo development stand, the apparent mundaneness of the film’s setting is what makes it hit closest to home. And with that, the slow revelations of what’s really going on beneath the surface are all the more relatable and affecting.
What also makes that part of the story so powerfully unnerving is the lead performance from Robin Williams. Totally against type for an actor so beloved for his energetic and optimistic performances, Williams is perfectly cast in this role, pulling off the pitiable likability of an unstable but seemingly well-meaning man, yet still allowing that little bit of insanity to seep through the facade.
As a result, you sympathise with his character just as the family who he befriends do. And with that, just like the relatably mundane setting, the development of the story into something a whole lot more deranged is even more unsettling, as you fall for the very facade that the victims in the film do.
Williams’ innate likability is difficult to avoid, and that plays a large part in making you fall for his character’s facade. Yet where the film doesn’t do quite so well is replicating that emotion in its screenplay.
Attempting to tell a bittersweet tale about a deranged man that you still feel sorry for, One Hour Photo struggles to make Williams’ character either menacing enough to be genuinely terrifying, yet neither pitiable enough to really sympathise with.
As a result, the film’s final act – which relies a little more on you feeling that mix of pity and fear towards the character – isn’t quite as powerful as it really wants to be, bringing an otherwise enthralling film to a rather underwhelming close.
Still, One Hour Photo is still a captivating watch. With a strikingly unsettling atmosphere throughout, clever and effective pacing, a daunting score and a pitch-perfect lead turn from Robin Williams, it’s a gripping and unnerving thriller, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark in its final stages. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.