Film Review: One Hour Photo

There are some movies that you go into with preconceived ideas as to what to expect, what the film is about and the direction you expect it to take you in. For me, One Hour Photo was one of these films. I had long a long time held the belief that this was a dark thriller, verging on the boundaries of a horror film about what happens when you trust something intimate to a complete stranger. What happens when you give access to your inner lives to someone you don’t know.

I’ve been waiting to see it for a long time. It appeared many months ago in Empire Magazine’s “Reviews” section as a highly rated film and so, went onto my list of films to watch, and finally, having put it off for a long time, I got around to seeing it. However, what I was expecting and what I met were two distinctly different films. In fact, they are so different that I’m actually wondering, where or how, I came to my original idea about the film’s plot.

Instead of the dark film about a man stealing photographs I was expecting, I was greeted with essentially a film about one man’s mental illness. Something, I truly was not expecting. The film is strong and powerful, but it’s depth lies in it’s ability to portray the destructive torture that can occur when somebody is given a brief glimpse, a stopping of time, into a strangers live. The mental angst of never knowing what happened in the moments before or the moments after. Getting to see the intimate second the shutter was pushed, and how this allows you to connect to the subjects without ever being welcome. That sense of knowing their lives without being involved.

And for an hour, Robin Williams and the film takes you on a journey that is petrifying. It is emotionally charged to the point that as he falls further and further, deeper and deeper into mental oblivion, as his grip on reality becomes weaker and weaker, and the lives of the images become his only connection to society, this film stirs up feelings and thoughts that physically shake you. That physically get your heart racing, and leave you starting to sympathise for the position in which he is, while at the same time pitying the live he leads as a result.

And while it stirs up these emotions, and gets under your skin with a potency that at times leaves you wondering if you’ll make it to the end of the movie, as the feelings build and build; sadly all the good work, all the emotion, all the disturbance it creates are suddenly destroyed by the final third, the closing chapter. It leaves you completely at a loss as to the direction this film suddenly takes. It’s not a twist in the traditional sense, but rather, a drawing of a conclusion that seems to be at odds with the evidence throughout the rest of the film. It’s almost as if director Mark Romanek is watching a different picture to the rest of us, or is seeing the film in a different way, because without warning, he alters the emotion, he alters the character.

Suddenly, this film which has been gripping and tense while at the same time managed to garnish the perfect level of compassion and pity with it changes to revulsion. Romanek suddenly drives our lead character not to his natural conclusion, not into his own self destruction, but rather into a position that feels so unnatural, so unrealistic that you instantly lose all connection to the film, suddenly 60 minutes of mental and emotional abuse is gone and nothing replaces them. This film sets you up, it pummels you and then for no explained reason lets you off and becomes an unsatisfying and superficial farce and by the time it ends, it’s fallen so far from the levels it had reached that you are almost glad it’s over.

The way this film rounds out and the way it leaves you feeling is so divergence to the prefacing plot and feels so wrong that I am almost struggling to explain it properly. I came in with an idea of what to expect that was completely wrong, and while it was wrong, what originally replaced it was far, far better. But the final act, the almost polar opposite conclusion to the way I saw it going, has left me so separated and lost from this film that I feel somewhat dejected now to a point I’m really not sure exactly how I feel about the movie anymore.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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