Movies & TV Series

Auto Focus (2002): Some Facts of This Movie

Paul Schrader has always had an eye for dark material, whether as a screenwriter (Taxi Driver; Raging Bull) or as a director (Affliction). Therefore the life story of actor/amateur pornographer Bob Crane seemed like a perfect project for him.

After many successful years as a radio DJ, Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) got his big break as the lead in the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes. While filming the show, Crane meets John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), a high tech wiz who is testing video cameras for Sony. Carpenter invites Crane to a strip club, where Crane finds himself sitting in with the house band as a drummer. This is exciting for Crane, who starts to make a habit of it, always coming home late to his wife Anne (Rita Wilson). Crane has been happily married for fifteen years, but suddenly finds himself unable to resist the added female attention he is getting because of his new found celebrity.

Already unfaithful to his wife, Carpenter introduces Crane to the video camera and they begin a new hobby. Each night they bring home two different women, have sex with them and film it. Their motto: “A day without sex is a day wasted.” Meanwhile Hogan’s Heroes has been cancelled, Crane’s marriage to his second wife Patricia (Maria Bello) is on the rocks and he cannot control his sexual urges. He might seek help for his problem, if he actually thought he had a problem. “Sex is normal” he tells us.

Bob Crane’s bizarre 1978 murder in a Scottsdale, Arizona hotel room has become the stuff of Hollywood legend. To this date, police have still not found the killer. It remains a mystery. Schrader is smart to keep it a mystery, but he does use the clever device of having Crane narrate his story from beyond the grave.

Another effective device is his use of a shaky, handheld camera towards the end of the film, contrasting the still camera of the beginning. It suggests that Crane’s once steady life is becoming more and more unstable. Schrader also starts filtering more and more light into every shot towards the end of the film, giving the film an almost documentary look. Is reality finally closing in on Bob Crane?

Greg Kinnear delivers a brilliant, Oscar-worthy performance as Crane. He seems to become Crane, and in later scenes he is almost unrecognizable as himself. Nowhere does he seem more like Crane than in the Hogan’s Heroes scenes, which will no doubt get some fond chuckles from fans of the TV show. The rest of the performers are right on the money as well, especially Kurt Fuller as Werner Klemperer/Colonel Klink.

The film is well written, well acted and well directed. Its graphic sexual content is handled as nicely as it can be, but it will probably still be a turn-off for most movie goers. But for fans of good acting, you would be hard-pressed to miss Kinnear’s best performance to date. I give it a B.

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