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Dark Thriller <i>One Hour Photo</i> Showcases Deadly Serious Robin Williams - 2002-08-23

Robin Williams, one of Hollywood's funniest actors, stars as a deadly serious character in a new dark thriller about loneliness and obsession. One Hour Photo

"No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget. Photographs are intimate: especially family photographs that people bring into a one hour photo."

Sy Parrish is a cipher: a bland, almost invisible man who works as technician and clerk at a discount store one hour photo counter. But Sy has a secret life: over the years, he's become fascinated to the point of obsession with the pictures of one particular family, creating (in his mind, at least) an alternate life much more interesting than his own.

Robin Williams, who can be hilariously funny at almost any moment, stars as the painfully unfunny Sy.

"He is very awkward with people," explains Williams. "He has minimum skills except to do his job and then he puts on that kind of 'how are we today' kind of face and can deal with that; but outside of that, the moment people leave he almost shuts down."

"You're a very lucky man, Mr. Yorkin."
"I'm sorry?"
"You have a wonderful family; and, if you don't mind my saying so, a very beautiful house, too."

"I think people empathize with his loneliness and that kind of fixation with another life," says Williams. " ' Their life is better than mine; Isn't it wonderful? ' "

Danish-born Connie Nielsen co-stars as the wife who has bringing films of her family to Sy's photo counter for years.

"I think this is not something that says be careful of where you put your pictures," she says. " It just happens to be a very useful symbol to use: somebody who is working in a one hour photo is a beautiful little setup to talk about what happens to people when they are so consumed with images. If we set up this image of a beautiful, perfect family, then anyone who does not live like that is automatically going to feel like they have screwed up everything in their lives; and the pictures we all commit to make every day are a part of the myth creating as well. "

Music video veteran Mark Romanek makes his feature film debut with One Hour Photo.

"I think a film about an outsider who feels unnoticed and left out and disconnected, wanting to connect, is something everyone can relate to," he says.

Although suspense and fear are part of the story, writer-director Romanek does n-o-t like the label "thriller:"

"I never thought of it as a thriller. I always thought of it as this creepy love story because I fell like Sy is just in love with this family and the idea of this family," he explains. "But this strange, misplaced affection has developed in an incorrect fashion. I also kept saying I thought of the film as kind of a 'Bolero' as a musical metaphor, because I just thought it needed to very slowly build and create tension. I think a lot of the tension comes from the fact that it's Robin Williams. He's a very repressed character, but because we know he's Robin Williams, we know he's repressing a lot. This energy is going to blow at some point."

Sy's obsession appears harmless at first, but as he learns more about the family (through their photographs, of course), he becomes bolder. However, Williams' meticulous portrayal is frightening, n-o-t because of what he actually does, but for what he seems capable of doing.

"It's the silences and the potential that is there," says Williams. "You keep wondering 'where is he going with this?' When it starts off you think he's after the wife; and who wouldn't be... she's so beautiful. When he starts to approach the kid you think 'oh my God, he's a pedophile.' then when he approaches the father you realize something else is going on, it's a much bigger picture and the problem is even deeper and that he really thinks of himself as part of their family. You know, I really feel like ' uncle Sy.' "

One Hour Photo also features Michael Vartan as the husband and newcomer Dylan Smith as eight-year-old Jake. Eriq LaSalle plays a police detective puzzled by this case of obsession and misplaced affections.