It's done, and as photo developer Seymour "Sy" Parrish in One Hour Photo, Robin Williams just may have found the greatest role of his career. Playing beautifully to both fans and detractors, Williams' Sy is a character you don't know whether to hug or hate, a balance Bob Hoskins couldn't quite capture in Felicia's Journey. Sy's the sort of guy you see every day and seldom think twice about -- the middle-aged man working a minimum-wage customer-service job alongside high-school kids, a man who has not only resigned himself to such a life but even maintains an inner monologue in which he convinces himself of the great and essential service he's doing the world, in this case by developing its photos. At least until everyone switches to digital cameras.
As anyone who's ever worked in a similar job knows, there's lots of down time in which to gossip, daydream and discuss what great things you could otherwise do. In Sy's case, that involves imagining himself as a member of the Yorkin (read: "your kin") family, whose matriarch, Nina (Mission to Mars and Gladiator's Connie Nielsen, finally in a good movie), regularly drops off their family snapshots. There doesn't appear to be anything sexual about Sy's fixation, except perhaps on the most sublimated level. He merely wants to be perceived as Uncle Sy to Nina's son, Jake (newcomer Dylan Smith).
Nothing too unusual there -- many families refer to their extended circle of friends as uncles and aunts. But Sy's a little too friendly -- follow-you-home-when-you're-not-looking kind of friendly. Obsessive, also: Since the Yorkins first started developing photos at the SavMart, Sy's been saving duplicate prints for himself, which he pastes into a giant collage on a large, otherwise empty wall in his apartment. So when the family threatens to reveal itself to him as less than perfect, something's going to give, and the pent-up repression so apparent in Williams' face might just explode.
The movie is all Williams' show, as are most movies he stars in. But director Mark Romanek, best known for Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" video, makes the sets -- from the antiseptic SavMart to Sy's empty apartment -- Williams' costars. (Sy's place is way too large to be affordable on a discount-store salary, but you roll with it because it's symbolic of his empty life.) Romanek even manages to get perhaps the creepiest-ever shot of someone ascending an escalator, though due credit should also go to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth of Fight Club, a movie as grungy as this is sterile. Composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, who have scored all of Tom Tykwer's films, also help Romanek considerably; in an age of bombastic symphonic scores, theirs is modern and freaky, yet unintrusive.
For those disappointed with Williams' other psycho turns this year -- in the cluttered Death to Smoochy and low-payoff Insomnia -- fear not: This is the one to see. Some may be disappointed by the film's ambiguous ending, but it hardly seems a cheat when one considers the cut-and-dried fade-out a test-score-conscious studio might have preferred. One Hour Photo may be too "indie" to earn Williams another Oscar, but his ill-will hunting should stick with you much longer than anything in that old Matt Damon movie.