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flick pick | Auto Focus 2002
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Written by: Robert Graysmith, Michael Gerbosi
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Maria Bello, Rita Wilson, Ron Leibman
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: serious
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis When actor Bob Crane gets his big break as the star of the popular Hogan's Heroes back in the 60s, all the attention seems like it couldn't happen to a nicer guy in the world. He has the perfect high-school sweetheart wife, three adorable children, and a beautiful house in the 'burbs. He doesn't smoke, he doesn't curse, he doesn't drink: he seems like the ultimate 50s ideal of the all-American man. Beneath the goody-two-shoes persona, however, Crane has a darker side that's always been dying to get out. Fame makes it a little easier -- and when he meets a high-tech Sony salesman named John Carpenter, he finds the perfect enabler for luring his inner demons to come out and play. Soon their harmless late-night strip-club jaunts are turning into sleazy all-night parties with random girls. And when Carpenter introduces him to a brand-spanking new, cutting-edge invention -- the home video camera -- the two friends rapidly become addicted to capturing their sexual conquests on tape. Over the decade or so that follows, Crane gets divorced, remarries his Hogan's co-star, finds his career dead in the water after Hogan's ends its run, resorts to cheesy dinner theater gigs to scrape by, and gets divorced a second time. Carpenter, meanwhile, is there just about every step of the way, the two men having formed a relationship that's beyond friendship and exists instead deep in the land of co-dependency.

Review Ten minutes into Auto Focus and I couldn't for the life of me remember what the real Bob Crane actually looked like. I could picture the Hogan's Heroes episodes I'd seen years ago in reruns, but every time I imagined Hogan, Greg Kinnear's face was the one that popped up. Kinnear turns out to be mesmerizingly good at becoming Bob Crane, so much so that I immediately forgot that this was an actor, and not the real guy himself. I've always thought there was something too boringly generic about Kinnear's particular brand of good looks. But in the beginning of Auto Focus, when Crane's life is still going pretty dandily, this bland all-American handsomeness fits the character perfectly. The young Bob Crane is so eager to please, he's suppressed any semblance of the quirks that make an individual interesting, and Kinnear captures this perfectly with big wide-open eyes and aw-shucks grin (even if, as I discovered once I looked up Crane in the IMDB, Kinnear actually looks nothing like Crane). But it's in the slow transformation from perfect family man to needy sex-addict that Kinnear proves himself to be an astoundingly good actor. The change in lighting, the shifting color palette (it starts out all sunny-sweet in a glossy turquoise-red 50s color scheme, and becomes progressively more dark and muddy-brown as the movie progresses), the clothes, and the make-up are all pitch-perfect in capturing Crane's downward spiral. But Kinnear's subtle changes in mannerism and speech, the little things like the way he holds his body when he walks, are really what make Auto Focus intriguing. On paper, Bob Crane's life seems like just another tale of a weak man succumbing to the excesses of Hollywood fame. But Kinnear's performance, and Paul Schrader's strong direction, make the story into something that's a whole lot more interesting than a moralistic cautionary tale.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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