He glances in a mirror that reads Check Your Smile. He's wearing the company uniform. His sandy hair is short and patchy. No one has run their fingers through that since a kid at school tried to scalp him. He is small, obliging, precise. Somewhere, in the dark corners of memory, there was a thing called home and a toy, perhaps, that was lost in the move. He has nothing now, nothing but the job. He's Sy, the photo guy. People come with their rolls of film to this supermarket to have their snapshots developed. He knows their stories through their pictures. His apartment is as clean as a surgeon's fingernail. He lives his life through photographs.

Immediately, there are problems. 1) Robin Williams. 2) is this a movie about a paedophile?

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However well he plays the role, you are watching Williams not being Robin. You feel it, you know it, you can't stop thinking about it, which is unfair, because famous actors can do anything. Do you stop in the middle of Saving Private Ryan and wonder when Tom Hanks is going to make a silly face? You don't, because he has already died of Aids in Philadelphia and saved the world in Forrest Gump. It's different for Williams. He's such a stand-up. He can't look at you without grinning. Also, his movies are so sweet, dentists warn against them. How can he be convincing as a sad, weird person who wants to belong to someone else's family? He can't, but he tries so hard his shoes squeak.

Everything about Sy screams paedophile, although in other respects he appears asexual. He adopts the Yorkins, especially nine-year-old Jake (Dylan Smith). They are regulars at the photo booth and he has watched Jake grow from when he was a crawly little thing. He has their snaps at home. They are, in his mind, the perfect family - mum's beautiful, dad's successful and good looking, Jake's the bestest little kid. He wants to be their special friend. He wants to be Uncle Sy.

Writer/director Mark Romanek creates a sense of unease from the very start. Perhaps he lays it on too thick, because when Sy looks at Jake in that needy, grateful way, as if being close to him is a special treat, your sympathy wilts. The thriller element rushes at you later, before you have time to know what to do with those feelings for Sy/Robin. Is he a saint, or is he sick?

The film has an individuality about it and yet looks like a store front studio product. Sy's dysfunctional life is too obvious. Subtlety has been replaced by signposts. The pale grey colours reflect a pale grey personality. By comparison, Psycho's Norman Bates is rich in contradiction and personality.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2002
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Robin Williams assumes the stalker role in this offbeat thriller.
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George Williamson ****
Amber Wilkinson ***1/2

Director: Mark Romanek

Writer: Mark Romanek

Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, Dylan Smith, Erin Daniels, Paul H. Kim, Lee Garlington, Gary Cole, Marion Calvert, David Moreland, Shaun P. O'Hagan

Year: 2002

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2002

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