Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Movie Review: Auto Focus

There is a substantial amount of brouhaha that is made concerning the decadence of Modern Hollywood, and many have argued that they long for the innocence of Hollywood. But can that assumption about celebrity life really be constructed when there are so many examples to the contrary? Silent film star Fatty Arbuckle was suspected of sexually assaulting and murdering a woman with a piece of ice. Errol Flynn was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a brawler of Russell Crowe-like proportions, and had a number of arrests, one for statutory rape. Countless other celebrities have proven to have less than reputable personalities when the layers of their characters are peeled away.

In the film "Auto Focus" directed by Paul Schrader (who, having written the films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Bringing Out the Dead, obviously has a skill with darker material), we are invited into the private life of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane (skillfully portrayed in this film by Greg Kinnear). Crane built a strong reputation during his tenure on television as a family man and a likeable role model that charmed television audiences worldwide; however, Crane was also a man consumed by very disturbing personal demons. When he encounters an excitable video technician on the set of "Heroes" named John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe, no relation to the horror director), Carpenter brings him into a world of strip club, pornography, and orgies that begins to consume everything else in Crane's life and slowly begins to draw his career into a downward spiral as well.

While watching the film, there are a number of things that becomes very apparent about Schrader's filming techniques: first of all, while he doesn't begin to match the technical virtuosity of his frequent colleague Martin Scorsese, Schrader is no slouch, and knows how to structure a film correctly in an a visually intriguing way. However, to focus on technique alone would be a disservice to the performances and story of the film. The basic plot, based on the Robert Graysmith book of the same title, is paced quite well, and progresses in a way that quickly delves into Crane's decadence and yet still doesn't feel forced or unbelievable. Part of this can be attributed to Schrader, but the main credit for this can be attributed to the acting, especially award worthy performances by Kinnear and the always reliable Dafoe. Granted, this film is not for a mainstream audience; if you were pleased by the wholesome quality of "Hogan's Heroes", this is undoubtedly not the film for you. However, if you are interested in a thoughtful commentary on how fame corrupts even the most seemingly decent of men, the film provides an interesting yet unsettling film experience.

4 out of 5 Stars

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