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Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Actor's commentary; Director's commentary; Producer and writer commentary; 5 deleted scenes; Documentary: 'Murder in Scottsdale'; Making of featurette; Theatrical trailer.

PAUL Schrader has made a career out of exploring the darker side of the human psyche, of exposing obsessive characters who seem hell-bent on self-destruction.

Best-known for his screenplays, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, the director has also delivered such memorable works as American Gigolo and Affliction.

Now, however, he turns his attentions to Bob Crane, the jovial star of popular Sixties TV show, Hogan's Heroes, whose charming persona belied a sordid fascination with sex, which eventually led to his unsolved murder in an Arizona motel room in 1978.

Greg Kinnear stars as the TV star in question, casting aside his nice-guy persona to delve into the darker psychology of a man who had everything - wife, family, and successful career - only to throw it all away in the sleaziest of circumstances.

Together with best friend, John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe), Crane became something of an industry pariah, renowned for his sexist remarks and sex obsession.

He and Carpenter - whom he met during a chance on-set encounter - would pick girls up in bars, using Crane’s celebrity, then take them home and bed them, photographing them along the way, and frequently filming their exploits without their knowledge.

Yet their relationship was frequently volatile - Crane objected to Carpenter’s bisexual tendencies and severed all links with him at one stage, but felt hopelessly drawn to the sordid world their friendship offered, frequently professing that ‘a day without sex, is a day wasted’ and using Carpenter’s extensive knowledge of hi-fi and video to build his collection.

When he was eventually found murdered in his hotel room, Carpenter was arrested, but never convicted, and died years later having survived two attempts to prosecute him.

Needless to say, the movie makes for difficult viewing, both in its depiction of the seedy world in which Crane hung out, and for the way in which it exposes a life wasted.

Kinnear, in the title role, expertly depicts the star’s fall from grace, from honest family man with the world at his feet, to sad loner, shunned by the industry and desperate to escape from the mire he has dug for himself. For while many of his actions remain deplorable, Kinnear manages to make Crane seem sympathetic throughout.

Dafoe, too, exudes sweaty desperation as Carpenter, a leach-like companion, best described as ‘that person in your life that you may be much better off never having met’.

But Schrader’s direction also helps to tap into the gradual demise of a major player, starting out like an idyllic American sitcom, packed with bright colours and a jovial nature, before dissolving into the jittery paranoia which enveloped Crane’s mind. It is then that the film becomes washed out and dark.

It may be a difficult journey, but it is one worth taking.

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