On “Hogan’s Heroes,” Bob Crane, the actor who played Hogan from 1965 to 1971, exuded a blinding blandness. Crane’s still-unsolved 1978 murder soiled his image, exposing him as a sex addict who filmed himself (on newfangled videotape) as the life of the orgy.
Director Paul Schrader uses this hypnotic sleaze for a potent and provocative look at how the male ego is affected by sex and self-image, especially when magnified by celebrity. Michael Gerbosi’s script might have reduced Crane to a clueless cliche were it not for the bruised humanity that Greg Kinnear brings to the role. Kinnear is dynamite, letting glimmers of self-awareness cut through the selfishness that helped trash Crane’s career and his two marriages, first to Anne (Rita Wilson) and then to his Hogan’s co-star Patti Olson (Maria Bello).
Crane’s friendship with video techie John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe) is the key to his downfall. Carpy (sounds like creepy) shoots the videos, uses Crane to get to the babes and puts himself so close to Crane during the sex action, you wonder who he really wants to screw. Dafoe makes a feast of his role. For a wrenching tableau, you can’t beat Crane and Carpy jerking off joylessly while watching videos of themselves screwing women. Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver and the director of American Gigolo, is a poet of male sexual pathology. Shot through with profane laughs and stinging drama, Auto Focus ranks with his best films.