Directed by Mark Romanek, starring Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle, Dylan Smith and Nick Searcy.

Robin Williams must have hired a new agent. Or perhaps some time in 2001 he made a resolution to avoid doing any more hammy stinkers and start taking some interesting roles for a change. Either way, something radical has occurred, because 2002 has seen Williams leave behind his manic mask in favour of more measured and thoughtful performances. The key to it all, of course, has been his choice of roles.

Earlier this year, Williams surprised many with a subtly dark turn opposite Al Pacino in Christopher Nolan's 'Insomnia'. The usual Williams mannerisms were still there, but this time he was using them to creepy effect in his role as the deceptively intelligent, oily killer Walter Finch.

'One Hour Photo' sees Williams tap once more into this newly-discovered creepy vein, and in many ways it outshines his 'Insomnia' performance. He plays Sy Parrish, a photo developer whose job is his one and only refuge from a life of crippling loneliness and isolation. Parrish is a social misfit; nervous, unable to form relationships, living out his life on the periphery of society. The colour code of the film reinforces this admirably. Director Mark Romanek has wisely opted for various shades of creams and off-whites, instilling the piece with a subtle sense of the violation of normality.

It's a testament to Williams' portrayal that in the early part of the film, Parrish comes across as someone whom we all know. A someone we all know and pity, but nevertheless keep at arm's length for fear of some unwholesome dormant habits. It is this fear, upon which the premise of 'One Hour Photo' is built. As an escape from his lonely, humdrum existence, Parrish lives his life vicariously through local family the Yorkins. Mum Nina (Nielsen) and son Jake (Smith) are regular visitors to the local SavMart where Parrish works, and have been giving him their photos to develop for years. To the Yorkins, he's 'Sy the photo guy'. To Parrish himself, he's 'Uncle Sy'. It is this inability to separate reality from fantasy that accelerates the plot into murkier territory.

Unfortunately, it's not nearly murky enough. Just as Romanek builds the tension, he lets it all go soft. With Parrish's emotional fragility having increased on learning that Daddy Yorkin has been less than honest in his family life, he is finally pushed over the edge when he's fired from his job. Parrish's obsession subsequently takes on more violent significance, but instead of going for a full on assault, Romanek reels the whole thing in before we get really frightened. Weak psychological explanations are offered as entrees into Parrish's dark state of mind, and the film goes out with a whimper instead of what should have been a resounding bang.

But this is really all about Williams. Whatever he does next, 'One Hour Photo' will almost certainly go down as one of his finest hours. If he made a resolution to choose better roles, let's hope he sticks to it. If he hired a new agent, he should give him half his fee. Whatever the case, let's just hope the days of 'What Dreams May Come' are behind him.

Tom Grealis