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Speaking of audacious celebrities—Bob Crane, the star of the '70s television series Hogan's Heroes, is the focus of Auto Focus. Director Paul Schrader has written a pile of screenplays about characters, historical and fictional, who wrestle personal demons in dark places. He brought us Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver, a tyrannical alcoholic in Affliction, a burdened messiah in The Last Temptation of Christ, and a world–weary paramedic in Bringing Out the Dead. Here, he re–creates Bob Crane's clean–cut, affable personality, his co stars on the Heroes set, and the morally ambiguous era in which he partied. Then, in terms just as frank and unflinching, he portrays the destructive effects of sexual addiction. Greg Kinnear plays the reckless, camera–happy adulterer, and Willem Dafoe plays John Carpenter, Crane's depraved friend who lures him into debauchery, in a film that weaves humor and tragedy into a compelling and discomforting document of Hollywood behind the scenes.
While Schrader has always been frank about his Calvinist background and his interest in spiritual struggles, his portrayals of troubled men often disturb religious press critics, and this film is no exception. Viewers should take caution: an honest portrayal of sexual addiction and Crane's environment is sure to include scenes with graphic material. But does this film go too far?
Paul Bicking (Preview) writes, "While it vividly displays the downward spiral of sexual addiction … Auto Focus depicts the message with unnecessarily pornographic images."
Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says, "What would have made this movie compelling—an incisive character study—is sorely lacking. But the filmmaker never takes us below the surface of the two leads' extremely tawdry lifestyle. In essence, you have a movie that focuses on [the characters'] nights (and years) of constant orgies where love would definitely be an unwelcome incursion on their lust–filled rampages."
Many mainstream critics were also disappointed in the film's reportedly unenlightening accounts of foolish behavior. David Denby (The New Yorker) says, "Auto Focus certainly holds one's attention, but it's a strange and grim experience, ice–cold and borderline pointless. Schrader … has put his talent for inwardness in a peculiar box: he has made a film about two men incapable of an interior life."
from Film Forum, 11/07/02
As Film Forum demonstrated last week, Auto Focus, the film about the rise of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane and his decline into sexual addiction, is drawing negative reviews from religious media critics. This week, Michael Elliott says, "What we … have is a film involving characters about whom we don't care performing acts which we don't care to see. Not much there to recommend, is it?"