Auto Focus Film Review | TIFF 2002

by W. Andrew Powell

Greg Kinnear has done some great things in his few short years as a star, but he’s also done some awful films too. His role in As Good As It Gets propelled the story, and he was both fun and tragic. Then, in The Gift, he was the charicature of a real character and seemed like he might have been trying way too hard to be something he wasn’t. Now, in the film Auto Focus, he’s taken on the like of Bob Crane without really capturing the heart or soul of a man who was both a star and a sexual ravenous playboy.

I can’t blame Kinnear for the whole folly of Auto Focus though, because acting is really only a small piece of this disaster. What bothered me most was that director Paul Schrader and writer Michael Gerbosi made a film that blandly presents Crane’s life, but never really presents you with any reason to care about what becomes of him. You see a lot of things, from almost hardcore sex scenes to a few moments with his wife, and neither really illicit much emotion. In fact, all that I really felt was a bit of bile rising in the back of my throat, because his life was that distasteful, but that was more a reaction from the concept of the film rather than the actual heart of imagination of the film.

Kinnear stars as Bob, the actor behind the character Hogan in the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes”, which was a comedy in the 60’s about a group of army heroes who had been captured by the German army in the second world war, and held in a POW camp. However, the real story is about Bob’s descent into a pornography fanatic who slept with as many women as he could find and secretly taped them using the new technology of the time, video tape or VTR machines. It’s through the technophile John Carpenter, played by Willem Dafoe, that we first see Bob begin to toy with this other lifestyle.

This real-life story is a great subject for a film, and Crane’s murder when he was 50 was never really explained by police, but director Schrader never really captures the heart of what this film could have been. It’s not exactly a clichéd film, but it’s also definitely not a very poigniant film either. Whole scenes, which seem ripe for exploration and deeper emotional explanations, seem to go by without a second glance and graphic nudity unravels some scenes that could have represented in a much different light.

One of the few bright spots of the film is the cast of people who play the other characters in Hogan’s Heroes. Kurt Fuller as Werner Klemperer, the man who played Klink, Christopher Neiman as Robert Clary, who played LeBeau, all look and act very much like the people they are trying to play. Even Kinnear does an eerily wonderful job of looking and acting like Crane’s portrayal of Hogan. I also adored Maria Bello as Crane’s second wife, Patricia Crane, who isn’t in the film nearly long enough.

So, while I admired the cast and crew for taking on this ambitious project, it comes across as more of an R rated movie of the week rather than a proper look into Crane’s life and addictions. You see what his life must have been like, but it’s doesn’t feel like you should really care or get emotionally involved. If anything, it just looks like a film the government or some Sexual-aholics Anonymous might have put out about the dangers of sexual addiction. All that’s missing is a 1-800 number to call and a spokesperson for the group. You can be sure that Kinnear isn’t a spokesman for anything, except maybe how to play a weird guy without any real emotion. The least we could expect is some pity, respect, hope, or maybe even a little evolution of what it feels like to have you life washed down the drain.

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