Auto Focus


Directed by: Paul Schrader
Written by:Michael Gerbosi
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman
Released: July 10, 2003
Grade: B

The story of Robert Edward Crane epitomises the truth behind Hollywood.  Bob’s career began on the radio and after a number of small roles, landed the part that would make him famous – the title character in Hogan’s Heroes.  The series ran for six seasons between 1965 and 1971 and despite initial controversy, became the success that still sees it screened in syndication today.  With a wife of 15 years, Crane’s career was at its highest point – he was a leading celebrity.

On the set he became friends with a Sony representative named John Carpenter.  Carpenter frequented strip clubs and engaged in sexual orgies.  The film has us believe that the straight shooting Crane was lead into this seedy underworld entirely by Carpenter but I’m sure it wasn’t as black and white.  Soon enough, Crane was picking up girls at clubs and bringing them back to Carpenter’s place for sex.  John Carpenter’s job saw him have the latest in video technology and he used it for his own benefit.  Crane took nude photos of the girls he slept with for his own personal album and Carpenter videotaped the sexual escapades so they could watch it again later.

Crane’s marriage disintegrated but he found a new wife on the set of Hogan’s Heroes.  Once the show finished up, the world was at Crane’s feet but his reputation as a dirty sex-aholic had spread through Hollywood and the roles didn’t come.  His only major role after the show was in Disney’s aptly titled Superdad which flopped at the box-office.  Turning to small theatrical productions to make a living, Crane was murdered in a hotel room in 1978.  Carpenter was suspected for the murder and eventually charged but a lack of evidence led to his exoneration.

Auto Focus scratches the surface on many aspects of Crane’s life but doesn’t dig very deep.  It isn’t a particularly emotion film and doesn’t sufficiently show how dark his life became following Hogan’s Heroes.  We see very little of his wives, his children and his friends and the effect his troubled life had on them.  The film’s “focus” is on the quirky relationship between Crane and Carpenter which begins with interest but tires in its repetitiveness.

Director Paul Schrader certainly has an appreciation for the era as the sets and costumes are remarkable.  Every detail from the couch fabric to Crane’s sunglasses just reeks of 70’s tackiness.  There’s much colour in the film although this symbolically disappears in the final scenes.  Schrader’s no stranger to strong storytelling having written screenplays for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and American Gigolo but he simply does not generate enough passion for Crane’s character to make Auto Focus interesting.

Once a reporter on a trashy cable TV show, Greg Kinnear shows his worth as a dramatic actor alongside the talented Willem Dafoe.  The make-up artists show their own talent in transforming them from clean-cut gentlemen to sleazy perverts.  You can sense my appreciation for many of Auto Focus’s finer details but the passion, Crane’s story doesn’t fly.