Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) is catapulted to fame when he lands the title role in the tv comedy series, Hogan’s Heroes in 1965. For the next six years, while his fame rises, so does his libido, although he hardly touches his wife. When he meets video technician John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), Crane’s sexual appetite is encouraged and expanded by the possibilities of the new technology, propelling himself through a turbulent and unusual relationship with Carpenter, towards a tragic death in a cheap motel room, his career never pulling out of its nosedive.
Review by Louise Keller:
The story of an obsessive man, Auto Focus explores the rise and fall of actor Bob Crane, whose bent for sexual exploits contradicted his image as a devoted family man. Remembered for his starring role in the groundbreaking television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes in the 60s ad 70s, Paul Schrader’s film offers no judgement, but concentrates on Crane’s friendship with the perverse video sexpert John Carpenter who offers Crane the opportunity to make use of his libido via his celebrity. Crane’s addiction to fame offers the indulgence of a ‘secret’ life. From conservative and respectable family man to sexual predator and voyeur, Crane’s duality and subsequent fall from grace is a tragic, yet fascinating tale. We first meet the man at work on radio: he is quick-witted, charming and confident. The irony of his unmasking his radio guest Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger), is not lost on us. This is a film that strips away the mask and every façade, leaving us with a vulnerable, flawed human being, struggling to come to terms with himself and his life. With the advent of his successful television show, Crane goes from a ‘one-girl guy’ to an obsessed womaniser, having been introduced by Carpenter to a night-life beyond his wildest dreams. His obsession with photography is further gratified by Carpenter’s groundbreaking video-making equipment, allowing Crane repeated proof and reinforcement of his sexual prowess. Crane and Carpenter make a fascinating team – on the surface, they are totally different, yet their friendship is based on a mutual need. Greg Kinnear is striking as the darkly complex Crane. What a different role this is for Kinnear, whose good looks and genial nature have made him a natural in comedies as a leading man (romantic or otherwise). In fact, to those who are familiar with Bob Crane or indeed Hogan’s Heroes, it may come as somewhat of a surprise of the physical resemblances between Kinnear and Crane. And Willem Dafoe is splendid as the seedy Carpenter: he is not a likeable character, yet we connect with him, and even sympathise with him. Although there are many images of naked women and fornicating bodies, they are hardly erotic, but seem illustrative and perfunctory, rather than emotional. I especially like the intensity that Schrader creates with haphazard camera work and great use of dischorded sounds, as life around Crane unravels. Because of his violent death, Crane’s narration is somewhat eerie – reminiscent of Sunny’s narration in Reversal of Fortune. Auto Focus is a tense and gripping film, filled with surprises and overt contradictions of the human condition. It’s also a terrifying look at a man who loses his sense of himself and is caught in his own net of deceit as he self destructs.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is no question that Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe are two of the best character actors on the screen today. And together they’re sensational. There is also no question that Bob ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ Crane’s life is an interesting example of the human condition and deserving of cinematic study. Nor is there doubt about the fact that Paul Schrader is a talented filmmaker. The elements, in other words, are in place for a maxi-moving movie, peeling off the layers of Bob Crane’s life (and death), including his tragic infatuation with sex; this in contrast to his tapering interest in his own attractive wife. This aspect is not explored. Auto Focus is everything but what the title promises – focused. The screenplay seems to be fascinated by Crane’s sexual interests and blinded to other aspects of his personality – maybe he didn’t have one. The film does have several highlights and there are scenes of great interest, great verve in performances and audacious humour, but it can make you restless and impatient with its recounting style. Overlaid at times with Crane’s own narration – even from the grave, the film tells us things it should be showing us. It’s a somewhat flat film, giving us very little more than spasmodic, join the dots story telling, without revealing much more about Crane than his relationship to John Carpenter and his sexual addiction. This is illustrated by the repetition of his (and Carpenter’s) mantra that a day without sex is wasted. But after 105 minutes, this mantra wears thin (for an audience, at least) and the result is a film with serious erectile problems.
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AUTO FOCUS (R)
CAST: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman, Bruce Solomon, Michael E. Rodgers, Kurt Fuller, Christopher Neiman, Lyle Kanouse, Donna-Marie Recco, Ed Begley Jr.
PRODUCER: Scott Alexander, Alicia Allain, Pat Dollard, Larry Karaszewski, Todd Rosken
DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader
SCRIPT: Michael Gerbosi (book, The Murder of Bob Crane by Robert Graysmith)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Fred Murphy
EDITOR: Kristina Boden
MUSIC: Angelo Badalamenti (additional music by Andrew Barrett)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Chinlund
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 10, 2003