From lovable camp inmate to amateur porn enthusiast

Auto Focus is a film that exposes the consequences of succumbing to temptation, taking us on a sleazy ride to the hellish basement of ’60s television icon Bob Crane’s ultimate destination.

Director Paul Schrader, screenwriter of Taxi Driver and director of Affliction and American Gigolo, has fashioned a film that attempts to portray Hollywood’s underbelly.

The film’s opening segments of sunny California skies and bright spotlights of the soundstages serve to make the dank, dark circumstances of Crane’s post-stardom life even more startling and repulsive.

With an all-American smile ready-made for television in the ’60s, Crane achieved stardom as Col. Hogan in Hogan’s Heroes.

Though the show was far from a critical success, the public embraced the controversial comedy set in a World War II prison camp.

Crane, began to explore the options open to him as a successful star.

He meets video technician John Carpenter and together they move from documenting Crane’s family life to his newly acquired taste for videotaping his sexual conquests.

Crane’s obsession with his new friend and hobby blur his ability to see the effects on his family and career.

Some believe that his association with Carpenter and the videotaping of his numerous sexual encounters may have lead to his mysterious murder in a seedy Scottsdale, Ariz. hotel room in 1978, but the case remains unsolved.

The movie is based on the book, “The Murder of Bob Crane,” by Robert Graysmith.

Auto Focus portrays the tragedy of Crane’s life as well as its shocking and tawdry end.

While the film is artfully crafted, viewing it is like being at the scene of an accident.

In the same way that an onlooker moves on when there is little more to see, Auto Focus reaches a certain point where the circumstances of Crane’s life no longer retains interest.

Even if Crane’s mysterious death was not so well documented in the press, the audience knows where the endless accounts of Crane’s filmed sexcapades are leading.

The end is not as shocking as it is a relief from having to endure further evidence of Crane’s disintegration.

Greg Kinnear’s performance as Crane, helps to keep the audience interested. He is never less than mesmerizing.

His ability to simultaneously convey glimmers of the man Crane once was while being overtaken by the man he eventually becomes.

Both vocally and physically, Kinnear’s versatility is stunning as he reveals the many facets of a complicated and deluded man.

Willem Dafoe confirms his unequalled ability to portray the creepiest of men as John “Carpy” Carpenter.

His crumbling façade, as he faces Crane’s impending dismissal, is frightening and effective.

While both Rita Wilson and Maria Bello offer competent support in underwritten roles as Crane’s first and second wives, Ron Leibman makes the most of his juicy supporting role as Crane’s agent.

His desperate attempts to secure work for his increasingly unstable and relatively unemployable client is both touching and memorable.

Auto Focus doesn’t attempt to solve the mystery of Crane’s death, nor attempt to restore his tattered reputation.

However, it also provides an intriguing character study of someone blinded by reality, the bright but harsh light of fame.


Michael Castaldo can be reached at temple_news@hotmail.com.

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