Reviewer's Rating 4 out of 5   User Rating 4 out of 5
Auto Focus (2003)
18

Paul Schrader has a sixth sense for sleaze. From Robert De Niro washing the scum off the streets in "Taxi Driver" to Richard Gere strutting through 80s excess in "American Gigolo", he has an unerring ability to puncture the American underbelly.

"Auto Focus" zooms in on Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), tracking the real-life TV star from button-down family man to broken-down, sex-obsessed has-been.

A radio presenter and jobbing actor, Crane gets his big break when he risks taking the title role in Hogan's Heroes, a controversial, then hugely popular, 60s sitcom set in a World War II POW camp.

But with success comes temptation. A chance on-set encounter with hi-fi and video tech-head John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe - authentically seedy and needy) wakens Crane to the possibilities of celebrity.

Soon, he and John are scoring "chicks" in bars and photographing, then filming, their bed-based exploits.

But Crane can't keep his double life up forever. His sex addiction begins to spill into his professional and home life, and he becomes an increasingly desperate man. He is torn between two worlds, neither of which can fulfil him.

Starting in an idealised, smalltown American utopia, the film is shot almost as a colourised 50s sitcom. However, as Crane's life dissolves into paranoia, pain, and regret, the cinematography becoming washed out, handheld, and jittery.

Crane believes that "a day without sex is a day wasted". For all his charisma, he is a hollow, pathetic figure - poring over his photo albums filled with past conquests, masturbating in front of a video with John.

The descent into squalor isn't well-paced - a fact ill-masked with a clunky voiceover - and the final sequence suggests a mystery it's hard to care about.

But Kinnear delivers an excellent performance and the delirious imagery lingers for months.

A dark, true, compelling morality tale. "Boogie Nights" - with balls.

End Credits

Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Michael Gerbosi

Stars: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman, Bruce Solomon

Genre: Drama

Length: 105 minutes

Cinema: 7 March 2003

Country: USA

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