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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.
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
by Yee-Fan Sun
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