Auto Focus

Bob Crane was one of those actors who could never get past his biggest role. He was, for all intents and purposes, forever known as Hogan from Hogan's Heroes, the unlikely success about a POW camp in World War II. Hogan's Heroes ran from 1965-1971. Afterward, Crane could never seem to get another role. This was probably in large fact due to some of his extracurricular activities, which included videotaping women with whom he had sex with. He died in 1978 when somebody crushed his skull with a camera tripod in a hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona. The murder remains unsolved, but the likely suspect was longtime friend John Carpenter, who was tried and acquitted of the charges. This is a movie where the performance is what makes the story riveting, and in this case, it is Greg Kinnear who does most of the work. Kinnear (We Were Soldiers, Someone Like You) has played a variety of roles during his career, but usually sticks to a formulaic romantic comedy. This is the biggest step for him, a descent into darkness that solidifies his abilities as an actor.

Kinnear portrays Crane as somebody who rationalizes away all his faults. For all intents and purposes, Crane is an ordinary guy led astray by one of those pesky little devils that sit on people's shoulders and whisper naughty things into their ears. That devil comes in the form of Carpenter (Willem Dafoe, Spider-Man, Pavilion of Women), whom he meets during Hogan's Heroes. Carpenter is a nut about anything technological. He and Crane have a common interest in stereo equipment. One day Carpenter introduces him to a newfangled device called a video recorder, and their friendship is cemented. It is a mutually parasitic relationship; Carpenter uses Crane to get women, and Crane uses Carpenter for access to the equipment. Over the years, Crane begins amassing a huge collection of photographs and videotapes of him and the women he slept with. As Hogan's Heroes ended, he found himself pressed for work. Movie and television roles never panned out (his reputation preceded him) and he turned to dinner theater. As he traveled the country, Carpenter would meet up with him and they would pick up women.

Auto Focus is based on the book by Robert Graysmith and adapted by Michael Gerbosi. They and director Paul Schrader (Forever Mine, Affliction) present everything quite matter-of-factly. Crane believes that what he is doing is perfectly fine, even when it destroys his first marriage to Anne (Rita Wilson, The Glass House, Perfume) and strains his second marriage to co-star Patricia (Maria Bello, Duets, Coyote Ugly). Crane claims to be a one-woman man, and almost never sees anything wrong with what he is doing. In the few instances where he does, Carpenter is there to pull him right back in. Crane seems to have little willpower to succumb to temptation so easily. It is fascinating to watch Kinnear as Crane, obviously caught in a serious addiction yet oblivious to the effect it is having on his entire life. Moreover, he seems ordinary in every other aspect of his life. Kinnear's good boy looks help to further blur the line between his public and private persona, and there are fewer if any choices better than Dafoe for somebody like Carpenter.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, language, and some drug use.

Back to Movies