Auto Focus

November, 2002, Drama

Directed by:Paul Schrader

Starring:Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe

Writer-director Paul Schrader examines the depersonalizing effects of pornography in this icy exploration of the life and sexual obsessions of sitcom star Bob Crane, who enjoyed much popularity in the T. V. series Hogan's Heroes. In his 1979 film, Hardcore, Schrader examined the effect of sexual exploitation on a porno starlet's tormented father, painfully brought to life by George C. Scott. In Auto Focus, Greg Kinnear traces the downward trajectory of an outwardly likeable man whose celebrity enabled him to engage in a frenetic string of one-night stands that he obsessively videotaped for his own delectation. Willem Dafoe plays a creepy techno-geek who facilitates Crane's journey through this contemporary Sodom and Gomorrah in order to get in on the action himself. Crane's eventual fall from grace, the destruction of two marriages and his descent into dinner-theater hell get a chillingly impersonal treatment here, suggesting the director's view of his subject is both highly judgmental and a bit puritanical. Schrader shoots this odyssey very cleverly, opening with a visual style reminiscent of popular television series of the 50's and 60's, and then allowing the colors, images and musical score to grow darker and more ominous as the film's action moves towards its violent climax. Schrader's angst is much in evidence here, as it was in "Affliction" a few years ago, but there's no humanity behind the two lives we're given to examine, and thus not much insight or empathy generated--which may be exactly what the director intends. Kinnear continues to surprise with his skills, and Dafoe should garner yet another Oscar nomination for his role as the fawning sidekick. Not for the faint of heart-nor for the voyeur--sex has never been less appetizing than it is here.

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