Auto Focus (2002) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexuality, nudity, language, drug use, and violence
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman, Bruce Solomon, Michael E. Rodgers, Kurt Fuller
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Michael Gerbosi
Review published November 7, 2004
More dark stuff from Paul Schrader (Affliction, American Gigolo), who films this adaptation of Robert Graysmith's book, "The Murder of Bob Crane", with good cinematic flair. Auto Focus stars Greg Kinnear (Stuck on You, Someone Like You) as Bob Crane, star of the hit television show, "Hogan's Heroes", but don't let that fool you into thinking this is a comedy. Rather, it's an often disturbing portrait of a sex addict, who tarnishes his image by succumbing to his most hedonistic vices, threatening to destroy his career, his family, and in the end, his life.
Fame was his own worst enemy. It brought him money and success, but it also made him attractive to the ladies, who were doing anything to meet a celebrity. Along with his right-hand man and video specialist John Carpenter (no, not the filmmaker), Crane made it a daily habit of seducing star-struck women into a private abode, having a variety of sex with them, while Carpenter filmed the events for their future enjoyment. The men claimed that "a day without sex is a day wasted", and they rarely wasted a day. Yet, the success proved to be on the decline for Crane, typecast after Hogan's Heroes, and with rumors swirling regarding his extracurricular activities, all of the doors that were opened to him are soon closed.
Auto Focus is based on real events, although many of the conversations and scenes that take place within the film are fictional dramatizations, mostly because the players involved aren't around to tell what really happened. It's a seedy look at the vices of celebrity, and although you'd think this might be typical fodder found on "E!'s True Hollywood Story", Schrader's punchy direction and the terrific performances by Kinnear and Dafoe (Spider-Man, Shadow of the Vampire) make this a cut above your typical made-for-prurient-cable-channel fare.
Unlike many films about addiction, Auto Focus is especially difficult to watch because you can see a man who has it all deliberately causing the walls to come crumbling around him, and denying it every step of the way. Crane felt what he was doing was natural, although his hiding the events from his wife would suggest he knew it was wrong, but he just couldn't stop. With drugs or drinking, the problems would be easier to digest, as there is usually a physical addiction involved, but Crane's sex addiction was completely in the mind, and when most people would have stopped, he only stepped up his activities until it was too late.
As I said, Kinnear is a funny man and "Hogan's Heroes" continues to entertain families around the word, but just one warning for fans before viewing. Auto Focus is a very adult movie with some very heavy issues, so please be warned that young people may not be ready to handle many of the themes and situations presented.
Despite the pitch-black themes, the performances and direction guide us through to the bitter end with style, making this a surprisingly easy film to watch even through the toughest of times. It's heartbreaking to watch a happy man drive himself to the brink of sanity, and tarnish his own image not only in the present, but now with the ironically named Auto Focus, his image will be blurred forever.
©2004 Vince Leo