Retro Review: Auto Focus

What goes through the mind of your average TV star? Well Bob Crane, star of the successful 1960s TV series “Hogan’s Heroes”, wasn’t quite your average guy.

Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) was thrust into the public eye with the help of his successful comedy series. One day after work, Bob meets an audio video salesman named John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) who has sold units to Bob’s co-star Richard Dawson and other well known stars like Dick Smothers and even Elvis.

Once Crane sees the new video equipment he seems to salivate at the mouth with admiration. Before long he is hanging out with Carpenter and becoming even more curious. Crane maintains his public image and keeps his marriage intact until Carpenter unleashes the seedier side of video.

Carpenter introduces Crane to videotaping sexual encounters. Before long the uptight and reserved Crane is having sex with multiple partners and diving deeper and deeper into pornography.

Carpenter relishes in the emergence of his new friend’s addiction and becomes his official videographer.

The two friends begin to videotape and photograph hundreds of women.

Eventually Crane loses two wives, children and worst of all, himself. It’s a downfall that leads to Crane’s murder in a Scottsdale, Arizona motel room.

Greg Kinnear does a wonderful job as not only the innocent straight-laced Crane but also as the perverted and eventually disturbed Crane. I have always liked Kinnear as an actor and this film really allows him to flourish as an actor. Kinnear has definitely come along way from being a talk show host.

I also really enjoyed Willem Dafoe in perhaps a scarier performance than he played in the mega-blockbuster “Spiderman”. This performance is subtler but you can see the character’s hidden love for Crane and his pain about to burst forth. Dafoe uses just the right amount of restraint to make his performance a showcase of the film.

What happened to Bob Crane is tragic and his sexual addiction disturbing.

But if you look at it from a sickness side, you can see what it truly is. It is just that a sickness. The most common comparison might be to the likes of alcoholism or drug addiction. Crane let his addiction control him. What’s beautiful about the film is that Kinnear’s performance follows that path. He slowly allows himself to be addicted.

Sexual addiction has never been given this much exposure on film. The sad thing about the film is that we don’t know how sick Bob actually became because the filmmakers always photographed the pornography from the TV’s perspective as we would see Crane react. I know that due to ratings and everything we couldn’t see the material but how does one know the beast if one can’t see it.

I do know that this film does a good job in trying to pave the foundation in understanding the mystery of Bob Crane but it doesn’t uncover all the secrets. It does deliver a theory on who killed him. The debate might be what was more a tragedy Bob’s life or his death. “Auto Focus” is a fascinating train-wreck of a movie.

(3.5 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Auto Focus

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