Auto Focus (2002)

Paul Schrader has often cited his strict Calvinist upbringing as the key influence of his film career, going as far as to base George C. Scott’s evangelical crusader in Hardcore off of his own father. Although the screenplay for his 2002 opus Auto Focus is credited to Michael Gerbosi (based on Robert Graysmith’s book), the film feels intimately personal for Schrader in its examination of Christianity, the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, and deviant sexuality. A biopic of Bob Crane, the star of Hogan’s Heroes who spent his free time partaking in (and secretly recording) anonymous sex, Auto Focus certainly can draw comparisons to Hardcore and American Gigolo for its grotesque portrayal of Los Angeles as well as Taxi Driver for its protagonist’s fascination with pornography and incapability to recognize its depravity. Schrader depicts Crane as a superficially wholesome man, who sees himself as a morally upstanding citizen and family man despite his debauchery and sexual escapedes. As a critique of Hollywood voyeurism and the vapidity of celebrities, Auto Focus seems somewhat feigning, perhaps reveling in its subject matter a bit too much, yet Schrader’s sharp direction and the strong performances by Greg Kinnear as Crane and Willem Dafoe as Bob’s videography companion and supplier make the film largely worthwhile.

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