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Dan Heller's Movie Review of "Autofocus"


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Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane (60s)
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Paul Schrader's film, Autofocus, is the story of Bob Crane (played by Greg Kinnear), who had the title character in the hit TV series, "Hogan's Heroes" in the late 1960's. The interesting thing about the real-life story of Bob Crane is the fact that he was brutally murdered in 1978 by a killer who was never convicted, even though everyone knew who it was. The movie examines how fame and fortune in Hollywood can turn someone's life upside down - in this case, by over-feeding a man's sex-obsession to the point of self-destruction.

The plot of the film is rather straightforward: it depicts Crane's life as a loving father of two and husband in a traditional American home in the 60s, and how his career lead to his demise. It starts with his job as a radio disc jockey when his big break comes: to play the lead role in Hogan's Heroes. As his career begins to move, he befriends a man named John Carpenter (played by Willem Dafoe), an electronics wizard
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Greg Kinnear, Maria Bello
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who introduces Crane to the emerging world of Video Tape. The men become friends and quickly learn of each other's affection for women. At first, their relationship starts as any other friendship would, but Crane's emerging stardom provides opportunities to meet and seduce women, feeding both men's sexual appetites. Before they know it, they're having sex parties every night, and video-taping their exploits for later perusal.

Crane's will-power erodes as his deviation into sexual hysteria consumes him, breaking up two of his marriages, and alienating his children and everyone else in his career. He and Carpenter eventually rely solely on each for psychological stability. The stage is set for disaster when Crane finally becomes determined to "get out" of the whole sex thing, and try to make a go at his life again.

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Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane (70s)
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Donna-Marie Recco, Willem DaFoe
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Kathrine Dent, Greg Kinnear
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The problem with making a movie based on a true and well-known story, is that everyone knows what's going to happen, so the purpose of the film is to help us feel what the characters feel on their way there. The relationship between Crane and Carpenter is "interesting", but not nearly as strong as it needed to be to give the story a better sense of purpose. Very little else about Crane or Carpenter is explored, other than their sexual obsession, making them rather two-dimensional.

On the other hand, the best part of the film is the filmmaking itself. The scenery, mood and cinematography mirror Crane's state of mind fluidly from beginning to end. The psychological
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Greg Kinnear, Michael Rogers, Willem DaFoe
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deterioration is not only depicted well by Kinnear, but reflected well in the supporting visual and audible elements. The same cannot be said, however, for DaFoe's depiction of Carpenter, who is almost a catalystic passenger in the film. His role seems more to antagonize Crane to continue his sex-obsession, but other than that, no other true depth of this character is expressed.

The Bob Crane story itself is not that unique or interesting in the realm of similar stories telling how Hollywood destroys the lives of movie stars, so Autofocus had a tough road to hoe. If the movie were supposed to be just a portrait of man, it should have expanded on other sides of Crane to flesh him out as a complete character. But it didn't. Aside from the excellent cinematic aesthetics, the movie was rather ho-hum. Wait for it on video if you're a big Hogan's Heroes fan.

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