One Hour Photo (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #68

There’s nothing more dangerous
than a familiar face.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 96 minutes
BBFC: 15

Original Release: 21st August 2002 (USA)
UK Release: 4th October 2002
First Seen: DVD, c.2003

Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji)
Connie Nielsen (Gladiator, Basic)
Michael Vartan (Never Been Kissed, Colombiana)
Gary Cole (Office Space, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)

Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Go, a lot of music videos)

Mark Romanek (Static, Inside Out IV)

The Story
Sy Parrish is the lead technician at SavMart’s one-hour photo developing clinic. A lonely guy, he invests all his energy in doing a great job for his customers. He’s particular fond of the Yorkins, a young family whose seemingly perfect life has become his obsession. When Sy loses his job at the same time as discovering a secret about one of the Yorkins, his quiet obsession threatens to become something darker…

Our Hero
Sy Parrish, the socially awkward but fundamentally nice department store photo technician.

Our Villain
Sy Parrish, when he snaps — though from his point of view, it’s the member of the Yorkin family that shatters his illusions of their perfect life.

Best Supporting Character
Although the film is very much focused on Robin Williams’ tour de force performance as Sy (more on that later), the cast is filled out by good turns in smaller roles. Ones that have always particularly stuck in my mind include Eriq La Salle as a detective who becomes involved as Sy goes off the rails, and Dylan Smith as the Yorkins’ sympathetic young son, who identifies Sy’s lonely sadness before anyone else. Not so hot on his Evangelion, though.

Memorable Quote
“Family photos depict smiling faces… births, weddings, holidays, children’s birthday parties. People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.” — Sy Parrish

Memorable Scene
When the Yorkins are out, Sy wanders around their home, admiring the photos on the fridge, including one of himself, using the facilities, having a beer, hanging out with their dog watching TV. Then, suddenly, they come home… but it’s okay because he’s their friend. And this is all in Sy’s imagination.

Technical Wizardry
Writer-director Mark Romanek’s background is as a very successful music video director, and, as you might expect from someone with that history, his first proper feature is visually assured. In particular Sy’s workplace, SavMart, created by production designer Tom Foden as a consumerist heaven-cum-hell: a huge, white, slick place, but ultimately sterile, cold, and colourless, especially under glaring fluorescent light in the typically skilful cinematography of David Fincher’s frequent DP, Jeff Cronenweth.

Making of
In keeping with the film’s photographic theme, many of the characters are named after real-life photographers. These include: Sy’s assistant, Yoshi Araki (Nobuyoshi Araki); Sy’s boss, Bill Owens (Bill Owens); detectives Van Der Zee (James Van Der Zee) and Outerbridge (Paul Outerbridge); Officer Dan Lyon (Danny Lyon); Maya Burson (Nancy Burson); customers Mrs. von Unwerth (Ellen von Unwerth) and Mr. Siskind (Aaron Siskind); and the hotel at the end, the Edgerton (Harold Eugene Edgerton).

1 Saturn Award (Actor (Robin Williams))
4 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Supporting Actress (Connie Nielsen), Writing, Music)
1 Fangoria Chainsaw Award (Actor (Robin Williams) — it’s not that kind of film, is it?)

What the Critics Said
“It’s a credit to Romanek and Williams that Sy commands much sympathy; for most of the film he’s convincingly played and treated as being odd and quirky but not necessarily threatening. That Williams has come to develop a warm-‘n-fuzzy screen persona over the years works wonders for the character; not only does it make his loneliness palpable and relatable, it makes his inevitable eruption all the more shocking to behold. What makes the turn all the more disturbing, however, is no matter how unhinged he becomes, Sy never becomes nor comes off as a completely despicable character. His actions may veer off into a negative direction, but the motivation comes from a genuinely good place, though to a selfishly obsessive extreme.” — Michael Dequina,

Score: 81%

What the Public Say
“It’s a film that over the years I’ve come to appreciate far more than my initial viewing due to the brilliant, unforgettable effort by Robin Williams who gives one of his most haunting performances. […] It’s a testament to Williams’ talent that you can be both repulsed and sympathetic to Sy. He unnerves you with his calculated obsession and creepy smile, yet it’s hard not to feel bad for a guy who simply just wants a friend or a family to call his own as he enters the twilight of his life.” — Jeffrey Lyles, Lyles Movie Files


Part psychological thriller, part character study, One Hour Photo has some interesting things to say about how we record our memories — or how we used to, considering that digital photography and social media have since transformed that aspect of our lives. Whether or not that element of the film is past it, Robin Williams’ performance endures. It wasn’t the first time he’d played a non-comedic role, of course, but he’s so throughly subsumed in the role of the awkward, creepy Sy Parrish that it’s possible to forget it’s Williams at all. It may well be the finest acting performance from an extraordinary talent.

In #69 a ringing phone has to be answered.