Auto Focus review by The Grim Ringler

Its hard to imagine that a mediocre actor like Hogans Heroes Bob Crane would ever be an interesting subject for someone to make a film of but then perhaps the fact that he was so mediocre is what made him so interesting. Letting his fleeting fame get to his head, Crane quickly found the dark side of Hollywood and in the end died alone and miserable like so many other shooting stars from that profession.

Auto-Focus truly is Greg Kinnears show, as he truly does become Bob Crane and in the process creates a terribly sad and tragic addict unlike any we have seen before on the screen. Kinnear plays Bob Crane, a miserably mediocre actor with very few credits and a hunger to break out as the next great comedic actor. As slim as his acting chops may be though Crane is a devoted family man who adores his family completely and dotes on them constantly. Crane though, as perfect as he tries to appear, harbors a dark sexual appetite, which leads him to hide girlie magazines from his wife, who upon finding them confronts Crane as if he is her child and not her husband. The world of the Cranes is suddenly changed though when Bob gets a gig as the lead actor on a television comedy series set in a Nazi P.O.W. camp. Crane cant help but laugh at his agent as he pitches it to Bob, knowing that you just dont set a sit-com in a Nazi camp, but then he reads the script and hes sold. Hogan is everything he has been looking for hes smart, funny, lovable, and always gets one over on those darn Nazis in the end. It was a hard pill to swallow but it might be the break hes been looking for. And in fact it is, and almost overnight Crane is a star. And all of a sudden women are starting to come up to him wanting to talk to just get near Colonel Hogan, and while he tells the women repeatedly that he is married, you can see in his eyes that hes intrigued. That deep down he really wants to see how far his fame can take him but that he cant betray his marriage.


Then Crane meets John Carpenter, who is played wonderfully but Willem DaFoe, a high-end video and audio specialist that Richard Dawson had befriended after Carpenter had installed some things for him. Crane doesnt much care for Carpenter at first, not sure what to make of him, but after seeing him around the set and out with Dawson he begins to form a bond with the man that leads to a very deadly friendship between them. And in no time Cranes demons are out of their cage and Carpenter was just the catalyst he needed. Crane can use his fame to get he and Carpenter the fame, and Carpenter can use his high-tech video equipment to videotape their escapades. And by day Crane is Hogan, and by night, he is an amateur porn star, he and Carpenter going so far as to watch their own homemade films and even pleasure themselves as they watch them and reminisce. Crane eventually loses his marriage though, his wife unable to deal with the actions of her husband and Crane unable and unwilling to give up his new lifestyle. In losing his wife though he finds the newest cast-member on Hogans Heroes, Patricia Olson who plays Colonel Klinks secretary, and in her he finds a woman who has the same sexual appetites as he and is willing to accept his many affairs. But then she is pregnant and along with being pregnant Hogans Heroes is cancelled and Crane has no choice but to take jobs in dinner theater to keep working. And the strain on the marriage is obvious, Patricia finally wanting Bob to settle down and to let go of Carpenter and his lifestyle but its too late now, he is an addict, unable to even clean himself up while working on a Disney film that might have turned his career around. And after Crane loses Patricia as well there is finally only Carp left, Carp who needs Bob to keep getting laid and to keep living the fantasy they have created. Tensions are quickly growing between them though as Bob realizes that he is almost out of chances and that if he doesnt turn things around, and soon, he will never make it out of dinner theater and back into the limelight he loves even more than he loves the kinky lifestyle hes fashioned for himself. But what Bob doesnt know is he is already out of time and while he is asleep in his Scottsdale apartment someone enters his home and bludgeons him to death, brutally murdering a man that had once been as noticeable in American pop-culture as anyone of that day and bringing to light a lifestyle that has tainted his memory to this day.

The magic of the movie truly is in the performances of Kinnear and DaFoe as they bring the characters of Crane and Carpenter to life so well that at times you forget that a lot of this is filmic conjecture. Kinnear makes Crane such a lovably perverse man that you can see why people were drawn to him, combining boyish looks with a playful nature, he is the kind of person who can get away with anything he wishes. And Carpenter is the perfect hanger-on, awkward with both men and women, sexually ambiguous, and the ultimate Crane fan and devotee, always-making sure to stroke Cranes ego whenever things get tense. But its a credit to DaFoe that he can make Carpenter into such a scary character as the film unfolds, his desperate need for Crane and his fame turning him into a whimpering child when Crane threatens to end their relationship, uncertain what to do with himself when the game ends. Director Schrader also has to get a lot of credit as well for taking on such a hard project and doing such a wonderful job with it. In filming Auto-Focus Schrader begins the movie with bright colors and stable, old Hollywood style filming techniques, but as Cranes sexual obsession gets out of hand the film becomes darker in color and style, the camera finally becoming an animal that seems to stalk Crane as Schrader turns to handheld work towards the end of the movie.

The extras on the DVD are pretty darn good, the best of the lot being the full Murder in Scottsdale documentary that talks about the Bob Crane murder and about who the people involved in investigating it really think killed Crane. I do warn you though, if you dont want to see Cranes dead body about a dozen times, many in close ups, then dont watch this doc. Ick! It is a really well done doc though and really is a great addition to the disc. The deleted scenes are good but nothing major, and the making-of is the usual fluff.

An absolute tragedy along the lines of Requiem For A Dream, Auto-Focus hits you hard with how dark Cranes obsessions were and how utterly damaging such an obsession can be. All in all this is a very well done film and truly shows that Kinnear, if given the right material, can shoot the lights out if he wants to. I just hope he doesnt shy away from any more dark material. This certainly isnt a film for everyone because it doesnt shy at all away from the darker aspects of Cranes sexual appetites but its a wonderfully made film that really is worth a look. I can see why this wasnt up for an Oscar but its a dog-gone good drama.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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