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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Auto Focus: Special Edition
Auto Focus: Special Edition
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // March 18, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

In past reviews, I've often stated my dislike for Greg Kinnear's work. After a while, it seemed as if Kinnear was making a career out of playing generic villians ("Loser", "Someone Like You"). It was last year in "We Were Soldiers" that I was finally impressed with the actor: doing something different, something dramatic, Kinnear made a strong impression in only a few scenes. "Auto Focus" has Kinnear portraying TV star Bob Crane, who rose to fame with the debut of "Hogan's Heroes".

The film opens with Crane as a Los Angeles DJ. There's a star quality about him, which gets noticed by a few in the industry. His agent finally delivers what he thinks will be a breakout role - it just happens to be a comedy about Nazi Germany. The show becomes a success and Crane befriends John Carpenter (not that John Carpenter), a local A/V guru who shows Crane the latest in videorecording equipment, parties and easy women.

Although Crane is hesitant to ruin his clean-cut image, his addiction to scoring with the women that are attracted to his fame eventually leads him on a downward spiral. Soon enough, he's divorced from his long-time wife (Rita Wilson, nice in a rather underwritten role) and seeing his younger co-star (Maria Bello). However, she doesn't stay around forever, nor does the show. After six seasons, "Hogan's Heroes" wraps and Crane has nothing to fall back on. In 1978, the actor was found killed in an Arizona motel - the case was never solved.

Once again, Kinnear offers a very good performance that makes some of his previous, lightweight choices all the more questionable. His portrayal of Crane turns an unsympathetic character at least somewhat sympathetic; he never quite fully understands how far down his addictions have taken him and what he's lost as a result until it's too late. At several points in the film, Crane explains that he really never felt he was doing anything wrong and what he was doing was "normal." Carpenter is also good - although quite creepy - in a supporting role. The women of the film, Bello and Wilson, are stuck with rather thankless roles.

The problem with "Auto Focus" is that, while it starts off in an interesting fashion, it hits a point about an hour in where it starts to get repetitive. The film also presents the events in a flat, ordinary way; it lacks impact and occasionally, starts to become less compelling. Visually, the film has its ups and downs: I liked the way that the film drained of color as it went on, but the handheld camerawork that started to become more and more present in the second half of the film seemed unnecessary. For a $7m film, the picture gets the period details down quite well.

Even when "Auto Focus" starts to fall apart a bit in the second half, Kinnear's performance really does carry the film quite well. His portrayal of Crane's battle with his inner demons is tragic and especially powerful in the second half, when his Crane realizes how hard and how far he's fallen. Kinnear's performance is really the reason to see the film.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Auto Focus" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Despite a budget of $7m, "Auto Focus" gets the period details down surprisingly well, and cinematographer Fred Murphy ("Mothman Prophecies") mostly captures it all with a clear eye. Sharpness and detail are generally quite good; the picture doesn't have a great deal of depth, but fine detail is still visible and the picture looks quite consistent.

Some problems appear, but the usual flaws are generally only apparent in minimal amounts. Edge enhancement is rarely visible, and the slight amounts that do creep in during a couple of scenes are not distracting. Compression artifacts aren't noticed, either. The picture does show a couple of specks on the print used and some light grain, but neither are much of an issue.

The film's vivid color palette was reproduced quite well by the transfer. Reds looked rich and dark, while other colors appeared accurately rendered and clean. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked natural. A nice effort from Columbia.

SOUND: "Auto Focus" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The presentation really doesn't require anything in the way of surround use - this is a drama mostly played out in interiors. Even Angelo Badalamenti's jazzy score doesn't get anything much in the way of support from the rear speakers. Still, audio quality was quite nice: Badalamenti's score was presented quite well, sounding dynamic and bassy. Dialogue remained crisp and clear, as well.

EXTRAS: Maybe wanting to attract more business after the film didn't do terribly well in theaters (probably a tough sell), Columbia/Tristar has loaded up the "Auto Focus" DVD with lots of supplements.

Commentaries: The DVD offers no less than three audio commentaries: the first track is from director Paul Schrader, the second from director Paul Schrader and actors Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe and the third from producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, along with writer Michael Gerbosi.

The commentary with the two actors and the director is okay. Schrader pretty much lets the two actors do the talking here, which is both a good and bad thing. Kinnear and Dafoe really do have some interesting things to say about Crane's life and their performances, but all the comments come between noticable gaps of silence, making for a stop-and-start discussion. The commentary track with Schrader alone is a little more eventful, as the director provides a very good overview of trying to create a fairly sizable and detailed film with a low-budget and tight schedule. Schrader also ventures into quite a few other topics, such as casting, the look of the film and adapting Crane's story for the screen. The last track of the three is the best; although the producers (who say that the idea of making a Crane biopic was "so awful it just might work") and writer go over some of the same ground as the director's track, the three are funny and energetic in their discussion of how the book was adapted into the screenplay. The three really make the journey through the film's development process interesting and entertaining.

Murder in Scottsdale: This 2-part, nearly 50-minute documentary is an exploration of the unsolved murder of Crane. Investigators, detectives, police offers and attorneys are all interviewed for this piece. Browsing through this documentary, I found it to be a very disturbing piece at times (there is a warning before it about the graphic content), but the way that this documentary pieces together (in great detail) how the investigation went wrong is involving.

Trailers: "Auto Focus", "Auto Focus" (R-rated Trailer), "Blind Spot: Hitler's Private Secretary", "Love Liza", "The Man From Elysian Fields", "Pollock", "Spider" and "Talk To Her".

Also: A 7-minute promotional documentary and five deleted scenes with commentary from director Paul Schrader.

Final Thoughts: While disturbing, flawed and not for everyone, "Auto Focus" is still worth a look for those interested due to Kinnear's portrayal of Crane. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition offers good audio/video quality and quite a lot of extras. Rent it.

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