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USA 2002
Directed by
Paul Schrader
105 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Auto Focus

Synopsis: Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), DJ and bit actor, is a church-going family man. Getting the starring role in the 1960s sitcom 'Hogan’s Heroes' looks like the career break he’s wanted for a long time. Fame opens doors, but not necessarily the right ones. And certainly not if you get involved with a dirtbag sexaholic (Willem Dafoe).

Apparently Stateside this film has had less than gratifying ticket sales because its depiction of the seedy side of recreational sex has made it unsuitable as a "date" movie. Sentimentally romantic tosh it is certainly not, after all this is Paul Schrader, best known for his collaboration as a writer with Scorsese on Taxi Driver (1976), but, unless your date is a chronic hysteric, this is not going to destroy your chances of a leg-over. If anything, it’s a major recommendation for monogamous fidelity.

Bob Crane’s story, which is based on real events, is a tragedy that brings to light a little-discussed topic – sex addiction – and its relationship to 'normal' sex with its mandated confinement to the connubial couch in God-fearing, American/WASP society.  .

The film has earned a mixed critical response but this. too is undeserved. Schrader, whose work is strongly marked by his repressive Catholic upbringing is not one to pander to popular demands for escapist entertainment. His sensibility is dark and Auto Focus is no exception.  It is not just about one individual messing-up, it is also in its broadest sense about the collapse of the American white middle-class Dream, due not to impoverishment or failure, but to the fulfillment of its own consumerist myth of complete gratification. Schrader, who can get a tad preachy, wisely doesn't ram the point home but it's there to see, particularly in the fixation with technology.

Greg Kinnear, by all accounts, has captured Crane’s public and private character well. I have seen brief glimpses of the TV series and found it inane and Crane a dull and, despite what is claimed in the film, an unlikeable fellow. But that’s just me. This is no in-depth character study, indeed, it seems that Crane didn’t have much depth, and in this respect Kinnear does his job well. Willem Dafoe is, of course, excellent as the ingratiating sleazebag (a kind of non-humorous companion to Jim Carrey’s stalker in The Cable Guy, 1996).

Production design is spot-on, gradually evolving from 1960’s chic to '70s porno tack, ably matching Crane’s descent into a social and spiritual abyss for which David Lynch's regular composer, Angelo Badalamenti provides an effective score.

Auto Focus may not be well-received this time around but it is a film that warrants re-visiting and may well come to represent Schrader's best work as a director..




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