AUTO FOCUS (2002)
Starring Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Mario Bello, Ron Leibman, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean, Kurt Fuller, Michael E. Rodgers, Lyle Kanouse, Christopher Neiman, Nikita Ager and Bruce Solomon.
Screenplay by Michael Gerbosi.
Directed by Paul Schrader.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Rated R. 105 minutes.
The bludgeoning death of 60s sitcom star Bob Crane and subsequent uncovering of his dark secret sexual fixation is one of the classic Hollywood morality tales. A handsome, clean-cut, sober and likable disk jockey who was thrust into stardom in the classic sitcom Hogan’s Heroes (but as the film often points out, it was bizarrely plotted… about the wacky goings on in a Nazi prison camp) and then finds himself completely unable to follow-up the role. As his career fell apart, he plunged deeper and deeper into a world of cheap sex and alcohol.
In this film version of Crane’s tragic rise and fall, Greg Kinnear does a very nice job of portraying Crane, capturing both his “aw-shucks” nice-guy public persona as well as his steady disturbing slip into a world of sexual debauchery. Even better is Willem Dafoe as John “Carpy” Carpenter, who is both Crane’s best friend and partner in crime, but also Crane’s constant downfall. Carpy is a sycophant who worms his way into Crane’s life by using his interest in photography and the newly invented video camerawhich leads to eventually dragging Crane into a world of strippers, voyeurism and casual sex.
This is a film that has abundant nudity but none of it really feels titillating, but that is true to the source material, it appears that Crane craved sex, but you never get the feeling he particularly enjoyed it. Crane was obviously what we’d now call a “sex addict,” but Auto Focus is strangely impassive in perusing his spiraling downfall into Sodom and how it destroys both his personal and professional life.
It was widely believed that Carpy was responsible for Crane’s violent death, but he was never proven guilty, and the film strongly hints that Carpy is responsible without coming out and showing him to be the killer.
The film almost feels like it is looking at Crane’s life like a scientist looking at a cell through a microscope. In it’s own way, the film is every bit voyeuristic about Crane’s predicament as Crane was about women. The film looks on at the mess he has become without trying to really understand what is driving Crane to destruction… why he didn’t feel that it was wrong until it was too late… or even why it was wrong for him… except for in the broadest strokes. In the end, Auto Focus is a very interesting case study that just doesn’t dig quite deeply enough to make it brilliant. (10/02)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright © 2002 PopEntertainment.com All rights reserved. Posted: November 6, 2002.