Robin Williams, One Hour Photo
Credit: One Hour Photo: Fox Searchlight

There are many varieties of penance. Catholics go to confession. Jews observe Yom Kippur. Puritans would don hairshirts and flog themselves with a cat-o’-nine-tails. But for Robin Williams, atonement means going sinister. With a résumé that reached its sinfully treacly breaking point with ”Patch Adams,” Williams has bounced back with three tales from the dark side this year. First there was ”Death to Smoochy” (admittedly, not much of a bounce back). Next, ”Insomnia” this May. And finally, there’s this indie psycho thriller in which he’s far more Jack the Ripper than Jakob the Liar. ”I wanted to try another color and say, ‘Listen, I can do this. I can play these characters,”’ says Williams. Adds music-video auteur?turned?feature director Romanek: ”He’s a smart enough man to be self-aware, and he knows how he’s perceived and that some of the characters he’s played have been overly sentimental. But I don’t care how many ”Patch Adams”es and ”Flubber”s he’s made, this is a Juilliard-trained actor who’s looking for new challenges.”

Receptive audiences at Sundance were willing to forgive and forget — that is, if they were even able to recognize Williams in the film. As a pale and pasty misfit known as Sy the Photo Guy, Williams’ Seymour Parrish toils behind the film-processing counter at a sterile superstore. And despite his chipper facade, there’s something slightly off about him. Is he just a desperate loner looking to make a connection with his customers, or is he actually dangerous? It quickly becomes clear it’s the latter when Sy becomes obsessed with a family after developing their idyllic snapshots, and tries to creep his way into their domestic bliss. ”I don’t know if it will make any money,” says Williams, ”but I didn’t go into this with illusions that there were going to be Sy the Photo Guy dolls.”

One Hour Photo
  • Movie
  • 98 minutes