|There is little to focus on in Auto Focus and the filmmakers don't want you to know it. Instead of making the movie more complete or shorter, the camera becomes their plaything at the end of the second act, when there's still a half hour of running time to go. The cinematography starts to resemble the actual porn movies made by Bob Crane and his evil cohort, John Carpenter. The washed out color, the shaky camera, the odd angles. The film seems to have been constructed this way in order to mimic the slow downward spiral of Greg Kinnear's Bob Crane character.|
From a seemingly loving family man with the small habit of collecting porn magazines to a man used to spending thousands of dollars on brand new video equipment for his home made pornography films, it takes longer than it should to see this moral fall from grace. Though Kinnear is quite believable in the role, and even resembles the part physically, the film's pace could benefit from a little bit off the top. We're not talking a hack job, but a general trimming could have saved this film from seeming so long. It's not even two hours, and yet the amount of information conveyed over it's running time is not sufficient.
We don't get deep enough into the psyche of any of the characters either. Though Willem Dafoe creates one of the creepiest characters for this film, he's still too much of a mystery by the time the film ends. And even though everything is told from Bob Crane's point of view, it's still too hard to understand what's going on in the character's head. Kinnear seems to have had a better time with his stylist than with the words on the page. And on the subject of style, the clothing worn by the characters in this film was one of the best elements of the whole movie. There seems to have been a large attention to detail paid to the clothing and the same could be said for the buildings.
And though it is not hard to find that horrible blocky sixties style of housing in Los Angeles, the set dressings for the interiors were very realistic. The look of this film deteriorates quite a lot over the course of its last act. Whereas the film has a clean, pressed look about it in the beginning, the smooth camera angles disappear once the Bob Crane character goes over the edge. This technique of changing the way the film looks to suit a certain character's mood or destination can be very effective if its not so obvious to the audience.
But because there is enough shaking by the camera operator in the last twenty minutes to simulate a good sized California earthquake, the technique backfires. The shaky camera and washed out colors might paint a more realistic picture of Bob Crane's last years of life, but in this film, those aspects are too obvious. Noticing the camera work brings a viewer out of the film and eliminates any emotional connection one might have with it. It is up to the actors to take up some of the slack during those last scenes, and neither Dafoe nor Kinnear can be faulted. They both give realistic, if sometimes comedic performances.
The film could in fact have benefited from more comedy from that strange duo. Watching the two have normal conversations while they watch home made porn movies is a strange sight in and of itself, but sometimes the potential for comedy was there, but the filmmakers did not take advantage of it. In looking at the other performances in the film, from the more peripheral characters, Maria Bello, playing Crane's second wife, and Rita Wilson, playing Crane's first wife, both give emotional performances that add well to the film. While neither is a stand-out, perhaps the script should be blamed more than the actors for not giving them sufficient opportunity to create more dynamic characters.
It is probably a combination of slow editing and a less than peppy script that contribute to the fact that this film has too many flat areas. While it is a scathing portrait of its subject, the periods of real drama in the film are too few, and it seems that watching Kinnear and Dafoe watch pornography takes up too much time. The basic story makes for an interesting film, but seeing it up on the screen, there just isn't enough basic excitement to keep the film moving in a positive direction. There are a few moments when Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe really shine, but those moments are too few for the film to be anything more than a mild experience at the movies.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.