It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"One Hour Photo" tells the story of Seymour "Sy" Parrish, who works behind the photo counter of one of those vast suburban retail barns. He has a bland, anonymous face, and a cheerful voice that almost conceals his desperation and loneliness. He takes your film, develops it, and has your photos ready in an hour. Sometimes he even gives you 5-by-7s when all you ordered were 4-by-6s. His favorite customers are the Yorkins--Nina, Will and cute young Jake. They've been steady customers for years. When they bring in their film, he makes an extra set of prints--for himself.
Sy follows an unvarying routine. There is a diner where he eats, alone, methodically. He is an "ideal employee." He has no friends, a co-worker observes. But the Yorkins serve him as a surrogate family, and he is their self-appointed Uncle Sy. Only occasionally does the world get a glimpse of the volcanic side of his personality, as when he gets into an argument with Larry, the photo machine repairman.
The Yorkins know him by name, and are a little amused by his devotion. There is an edge of need to his moments with them. If they were to decide to abandon film and get one of those new digital cameras, a prudent instinct might lead them to keep this news from Sy. Robin Williams plays Sy, another of his open-faced, smiling madmen, like the killer in "Insomnia." He does this so well you don't have the slightest difficulty accepting him in the role. The first time we see Sy behind his counter, neat, smiling, with a few extra pounds from the diner routine, we buy him. He belongs there. He's native to retail.
The Yorkin family is at first depicted as ideal: models for an ad for their suburban lifestyle. Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), pretty and fresh-scrubbed, has a cheery public persona. Will (Michael Vartan) is your regular clean-cut guy. Young Jake (Dylan Smith) is cute as a picture. Mark Romanek, who wrote and directed the film, is sneaky in the way he so subtly introduces discordant elements into his perfect picture. A tone of voice, a half-glimpsed book cover, a mistaken order, a casual aside ... they don't mean much by themselves, but they add up to an ominous cloud, gathering over the photo counter.