Seymour "Sy" Parrish (Robin Williams) is a photo technician at a one-hour photo in a big-box store. He is a perfectionist, lonely and consumed by his work.
Sy's favorite customers are the Yorkin family, whose photos he has developed for many years. He has grown obsessed with the family, enshrining them in his home with their photos that he secretly copies. He is shy and socially inept, however, and his attempts to become closer to the family are gently rebuffed.
Sy eventually manages to spark a connection with Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen) when he pretends to be interested in a book that he saw her purchase. Nina learns that Sy lives a solitary existence, something only her son Jake had considered previously.
The next day, Sy is fired after his boss Bill (Gary Cole) discovers that Sy's machine has printed many more prints than have been ordered and paid for, for giving Jake a disposable camera free for his birthday, and for an altercation in public with the "Agfa Guy", who performed maintenance on the developing machine.
While inspecting his photos for the last time, Sy discovers that Will Yorkin (Michael Vartan) is having an extramarital affair, and his idyllic conception of the Yorkins as the perfect family is shattered. Sy surreptitiously places the photos of Will and his mistress, Maya Burson (Erin Daniels), into a packet of photos that Nina was scheduled to pick up.
Sy follows and takes pictures, Paparazzi style, of Bill's young daughter, and sends them to Bill as a threat. Yoshi, another SavMart employee, discovers the pictures and turns them over to Bill, leading to a police investigation against Sy.
While detectives Van Der Zee (Eriq La Salle) and Outerbridge (Clark Gregg) discover Sy's obsession, Sy confronts Will and Maya during a rendezvous in their hotel room. Armed with a knife and a camera, Sy forces the lovers to pose naked in sexual positions while he takes pictures. After the confrontation, Sy sees that the police have arrived at the hotel and he escapes through an emergency exit. The exit door trips an alarm and Van Der Zee pursues him while Outerbridge discovers Will and Maya, physically unharmed but deeply traumatized. The police apprehend Sy in the parking garage. Upon being arrested, Sy claims, "I just took pictures."
Van Der Zee asks Sy why he terrorized the Yorkins. Sy says that he can tell Van Der Zee is a good father who would never take "disgusting, sick, degrading pictures" of his children, suggesting that Sy's own father exploited him for child pornography. Sy then asks for the pictures that he took at the hotel, which Van Der Zee described as "evidence." They appear to be only shots of objects and furnishings of a hotel room. The film closes with an imagined family picture of the Yorkins with Will's arm around a smiling Sy.Robin Williams as Seymour "Sy" Parrish
Michael Vartan as Will Yorkin
Connie Nielsen as Nina Yorkin
Dylan Smith as Jake Yorkin
Gary Cole as Bill Owens, Manager
Erin Daniels as Maya Burson
Eriq La Salle as Det. James Van Der Zee
Clark Gregg as Det. Paul Outerbridge
Paul H. Kim as Yoshi Araki
Romanek intended the film to be much longer, but the studio ordered it to be shortened, and elements rearranged out of concerns about commerciality. The beginning, for example, was moved to the end. Also, several of Sy's narrative monologues were removed, and several scenes were re-shot with fewer lines. The original version also has older musical scores that were not used in the final product. A director's cut is not available to buy, but was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
Trent Reznor, of the band Nine Inch Nails, composed the original film score, but Romanek opted not to use it. Some of the music evolved into the material on the Nine Inch Nails EP Still.
In accordance with the photography-themed movie, the names of several characters are drawn from actual photographers: Sy's assistant at the Savmart, Yoshi Araki (named for Nobuyoshi Araki); Det. Van Der Zee (James Van Der Zee); Det. Outerbridge (Paul Outerbridge); Maya Burson (Nancy Burson); and Savmart customers Mrs. von Unwerth (Ellen von Unwerth) and Mr. Siskind (Aaron Siskind). In addition, the hotel at the end of the movie, the Edgerton, is also named for a noted photographer — Harold Eugene Edgerton.
In one of the voice-over pieces Sy can be heard to say "They actually believe that any idiot that attends a two-day seminar can master the art of making beautiful prints in less than an hour. But of course, like most things, there's far more to it than meets the eye." Robin Williams prepared for the role by training for two and-a-half days in a Southern California photo development lab.
In an interview, Romanek said that he was inspired to create this movie by the films of 'lonely men' from the 1970s, notably Taxi Driver (1976).
In the DVD commentary, Romanek says that Jack Nicholson was first approached to play the lead character. Nicholson turned the role down.
One Hour Photo opened to generally positive reviews, earning raves from Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, and other noted critics. The film has an 81% positive rating on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes based on 193 critic reviews; the average rating is 7 out of 10 and the consensus reads, "Robin Williams is very effective in this creepy, well-shot thriller." The film's aggregate score at Metacritic is 64 out of 100.
The film's limited release began on August 21, 2002 in seven theaters, opening to a $321,515 weekend, with an average of $45,930 per theater. Its wide release began on September 13, with a 1,212 theater count. Still, the film made just over $8 million that weekend, and went on to gross $31,597,131 in the US, with an additional $20,626,175 in overseas territories, for an international total of $52,223,306; this was a moderate box office success, as the budget was around $12 million.