Robin Williams is an actor with a clearly defined public screen persona. Playing Sy Parrish the camera guy, he radically departs from this image with a brave acting choice. Audiences will demand believable acting to enable them to accept warm & cuddly Williams, playing very much against type.
Williams is believable as the terminally lonely supermarket photo developer, who has commenced an infatuation with snapshot photos of a particular family. Films get dropped in by mum & son (Connie Nielsen & Dylan Smith) and Sy always prints an extra set for his own rather unorthodox album.
In a well observed voice over, (the story is told somewhat in retrospect), Sy points out that people only take photos when they are happy, to record that time. No-one takes photos to remind them of bad times. Of course Sy, has no photos at all so he steals snapshots from the “perfect family” he so clearly yearns for.
The movie could have gone for cheap tricks and whilst there are elements that genuinely disturb, this is no regular “psycho in a ski-mask” movie. The script makes some valid observations; Sy is not inherently a bad man, just bland & lonely. His life in the movie is deliberately washed of almost all colour, clothes, furniture, car etc. When he accidentally discovers the perfect family unit under threat, from a father (Michael Vartan) receiving extra marital relief, he starts to overstep the line he has drawn for himself.
There are scenes that are awkward to watch, the meeting at the baseball game treads a fine line with what audiences will accept from their screen hero, even in acting mode. The belief that Sy has absolutely no wish to hurt the family, plays strongly in the earlier acts. Although, following petty slights (both real and imagined) his obsession starts to grow & will ultimately lead him to believe that interfering is the only “sane” choice left to him.
The family are effective although really only exist for Williams to act against. However, Sy’s relationship with the store manager and co-worker (Paul H Kim & Gary Cole) are well played. These further illustrate how alienated he really is, even before later events are set in motion.
The film is book ended by scenes with the police (Eriq la Salle) who act with some considerable sympathy and have a good line – “I think I understand now”, a welcome relief from villains being gunned down in slow mo’ by cops with egos the size of planets.
Everything is very ordinary in the film and that perhaps is where the feeling of “things not quite right” derives from. There are occasions when the character should stop talking, you know one more word will alert the listener and yet you know he will overstep that mark. That’s what his life has become and even if he wanted to, he cannot turn back, he has few choices left.
A real chance for Williams to exercise his undoubted, although rarely used, acting skills. A somewhat disturbing tale that refuses to go for cheap shocks, whether this is entertainment will be determined solely by your ability to believe in the character. Williams certainly gives you every opportunity to do so.