8:00 PM, 12th June, 2004
Frannie (Ryan), resigned to being dissatisfied by life, teaches creative writing at a local high school and seeks refuge from her lonely existence by spending time with her sister Paulina (Jason Leigh). The arrival of Detective Malloy (Ruffalo) to question Frannie following the discovery of a body outside her apartment initiates a fiery but uncomfortable sexual relationship. As the bodies accumulate, Frannie begins to question the exact nature of Malloy's involvement in this case. Jane Campion has completely dispelled my previous misgivings about her abilities as a director with this astonishing production. Its principal theme is sex; or more precisely, how we sometimes employ sex to attempt to fill voids and circumvent other shortcomings. A lesser craftsman might have rendered the sexual content too distracting: take, for example, Patrice Chereau's Intimacy. But Campion controls this material with a masterful touch, blending the elements of character and narrative seamlessly. She is aided, moreover, by Meg Ryan's splendid performance. Yet for me, the most entrancing features of this picture are the camera work and lighting. The ever-quaking, occasionally ill-focused shots successfully prevent the viewer from ever settling; and the composition of each frame - in particular, the attention afforded to the placement of colour and darkness - is breathtakingly beautiful.
9:00 PM, 12th June, 2004
Auto Focus relates the story of Bob Crane (Kinnear), the star of the television series "Hogan's Heroes". Success made Crane a household name across America and he revelled in the sexual and chemical excesses of Hollywood in the 60s and 70s. Accompanied by John Carpenter (Dafoe), a sidekick who introduced him to home movie technology, Crane starred in countless amateur porno movies. As successive levels of excess gave way to further extremes, Crane's journey of self-discovery through pleasure led him to become alienated from the world around him.
The performances in Auto Focus are superb. Kinnear's Crane is a tragic masterpiece: simultaneously believable, likeable and damned. Willem Dafoe's Carpenter is alternately comic, pathetic and demonic, easily matching his best performances so far. The unusual relationship between the two explores an intimacy that was as creepy as it was intense.
Director Paul Schrader has often been drawn to extremes. Auto Focus is a cold, brilliantly crafted, depiction of hedonism as a revelation of ruin and an intelligent exposure of Hollywood hypocrisy to rank alongside Sunset Boulevard or Mullholland Drive.