ONE HOUR PHOTO – Blu-ray review

Yesterday I saw a news story about a 41-year-old Miami plastic surgeon who allegedly attacked his girlfriend over a Facebook posting, forcing her head into a toilet, then stuffing a rag in her mouth and pouring water over her face in an attack that lasted 16 hours. And I thought, what kind of creep would do such a thing?

The answer was obvious: the same kind of creep who would gang rape tourists in India, or kidnap and rape his daughter’s best friend and two other teens over the course of ten years. The world is full of creeps and scumbags. I suppose it’s always been so, but these days it seems everyone’s going postal, which makes “One Hour Photo”still sadly relevant.

No matter where you live, chances are that you know at least one person working retail who takes his job just a little too seriously, who seems like he’s looking at you with x-ray vision, and who, though socially awkward, keeps trying to make conversation that crosses the line between the professional and the personal. Why? Because he lives in his mother’s basement, or if his mother is estranged or deceased, in a cheap apartment somewhere by himself. He has no friends, no significant other, and no life, and he envies you and everyone else who does. When that envy turns to resentment? Look out. And when he tries to attach himself to you in order to experience your life, at least peripherally? Back away. He’s a lamprey who’ll suck you into his own sick world.

“One Hour Photo” tells a common story of a creeper who makes that turn from envy to resentment, and it does so within the familiar structure of the psychological thriller. You know it by heart: the slow reveal of the extent of the person’s growing psychosis or the severe condition he’s been trying to hide—a slow boil that builds to a third-act bubbling over. As a film, it’s extremely familiar except for not knowing exactly HOW the creeper will go postal. So this 96-minute film would be a drag except for one thing:  Robin Williams.

Williams’ performance as “Sy the Photo Guy” at Savmart is the only reason to watch “One Hour Photo.” Everything else is paint-by-numbers, by-the-book. Williams is compellingly believable and genuinely creepy.

It’s also creepy to watch him in action. Like any predator, he goes about the business of stalking his prey in a disturbingly patient and methodical way. Pay attention, because if you ever see the same sort of behavior in someone who interacts with your loved ones, maybe it’s time to phone police.

The Yorkin family should have seen the signs—that after developing their photos for many years, Sy began to act a little strangely, as if he were one of the family. One might say his behavior was obsessive. What else would you call buying the same book as the wife and mother (Connie Nielsen) to strike up a conversation with her, or turning up at a soccer practice to cheer on the boy (Dylan Smith)? Only the father (Michael Vartan) seems to get that there’s something a little “off” with Sy, but he doesn’t act on his gut feeling. And the Savmart manager (Gary Cole)? He only knows that Sy has been behaving strangely and seems to be connected to some missing photos.

As I said, it’s all pretty by-the-numbers except for Williams’ incredible performance, and “incredible” isn’t an exaggeration. The normally snooty Online Film Critics Society gave him a Best Actor nomination, and Williams won the Saturn Award for Best Actor from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.

“One Hour Photo” is rated R for “sexual content and language.”

I was not impressed by the video presentation. What sticks in my memory days afterwards is the sheer amount of noise present on white surfaces—as when Sy’s sleeves are thrust into the foreground on an angle, and it rubs your face in the imperfection. Fox did nothing to restore this film, and I have to wonder, even, about the condition of the source materials used for the transfer, because there are occasional flecks that pop up. There’s a large amount of grain, but at least, unlike another recent Fox/MGM release, it looks more like film grain than something artificial or superficial.  And at least the colors seem true. Sy would be pleased. “One Hour Photo” is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

The audio is considerably better, with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 delivering clear dialogue and a nice range of sounds across the field. As with other recent catalog titles new to Blu-ray the soundtrack is center-specific, the rear channels do come to life occasionally.

Additional audio options are Spanish, French, and German, with English SDH, Spanish, and German subtitles.

There’s a nice bunch of extras here, including a surprisingly pensive commentary from Williams, who joins director Mark Romanek for a discussion of the story’s dark themes and scenes. Other bonus features cover pre-production, production, and post-production.

“Location/Tech Scouting: Multi-angle Vignettes” (33 min.) shows location scouting footage, while a storyboard slide show (18 min.) maps out virtually every scene, and “Cast Rehearsals” (21 min.) show the director at work coaching his actors. “Main Title Test” is just an early version of the title sequence, while we also get a gallery of proposed movie poster designs.

“Lensing One Hour Photo” (26 min.) blends behind-the-scenes footage with talking heads in what amounts to a making-of retrospective, full of anecdotes, while “Sy’s Nightmare Elements” is an ultra-brief look at the special effects for the bloody and graphic shot.

There are promos, too, with a Cinemax featurette (13 min.) offering another clip/interview edited teaser, and a longer promo on “The Charlie Rose Show” (36 min.) featuring Williams and Romanek talking with Rose about the film. Here, Williams can’t resist comedy, though the discussion eventually gets serious.

Finally, there’s “Sundance: Anatomy of a Scene” (28 min.), featuring an in-depth look at the scene where Sy meets Mr. Yorkin in the computer aisle of Savmart. Rounding out the bonus features are several TV spots and the original trailer.

Bottom line:
Without Robin Williams, “One Hour Photo” is just another predictable B movie thriller. He’s like that slow train wreck, personified, that people can’t seem to take their eyes off.