One of the rentals sitting on my shelf for a while was Auto Focus, the story of the downfall of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane. While I was certainly interested in the film, I wasn't sure when I would be in the mood for it. Well, Friday night I wanted a quiet evening after the excesses of the previous day, and I sat and watched it.
First of all, Paul Schrader's direction is very specific; he tells the story he wanted to tell, and while he doesn't glamorize Crane's descent, the allure of it is nevertheless conveyed. The film is structured like a drug movie, with the film starting with a "fun and games" act and then showing his life increasingly disintergrate because of it, only instead of drugs Crane becomes addicted to sex.
Greg Kinnear is excellent as Crane, he has the perfect presence as well as a very accurate look; when he puts on that jacket, it feels like you're looking at Hogan, just as with the real Bob Crane. His portrayal of Crane as somebody not so much seduced by video technology and its impact in the bedroom manages to evoke sympathy despite the overindulgence one sees in the film. Willem Dafoe plays the tech-head John Carpenter who got him into the funny stuff (this is not the same John Carpenter who made Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, Starman and Big Trouble in Little China). Dafoe is one of the few actors that can bridge personability with creepiness, and the results are fantastic. Carpenter is at once predatory and vulnerable, and his clinging to Crane - and Crane's acceptance of it - is something that the viewer can understand.
The DVD looked and sounded great, and is packed with special features that I have sampled but haven't quite gone through exhaustively, including three commentary tracks (Schrader is very engaging, there is one by Kinnear and Dafoe that sounded rather interesting and there is one by the producers and writer Michael Gerbosi) and several featurettes, including a documentary, Murder in Scottsdale, about the death of the real Bob Crane. It's a great package for a worthy picture.