Review by Paul Stathakis | 2002

Blurs line between fiction and reality

George Clooney is a good actor, but also a brilliant director. No one would’ve believed that statement had “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” never been made. But it has and Clooney’s directorial debut shows great promise.

TV personality Chuck Barris (played by Sam Rockwell) understood what makes successful television and foresaw its future. In fact, it was Barris who first declared that people would do anything to get on TV and that others would watch them, no matter what. And today, with big reality shows like “Joe Millionaire” and “Survivor” attracting millions of viewers, Barris has been proven correct.

Chuck has been widely criticized for polluting TV airwaves with his wild imagination. He was the creator and host of several famous shows as “The Dating Game”, “The Newlywed Game” and, of course, “The Gong Show”. But when his career hit rock-bottom, Barris published an autobiography in 1982. In his revealing memoir, he confesses to once being an assassin for the CIA and killing 33 people. However much of his account is actually true is irrelevant. The movie tells his story assuming that every word is true.

In the film, Chuck is approached by a grim and reserved man named Jim Byrd (George Clooney). Byrd is like a ghost. He constantly appears subtly and unexpectedly. He’s a scary man. “I can teach you at least 30 different ways to kill a man with a single blow, Mr. Barris”, says Byrd. He then goes on to offer Chuck a position at the CIA as an independent contract agent. Barris is shocked and confused and doesn’t know whether to take Byrd seriously or jokingly.

But Chuck sees the job offer as a means of getting enough money to transform personal ideas into TV game shows. So, he accepts Byrd’s proposal and, not too long after, becomes a professionally trained killer.

I should mention that the movie isn’t linear, meaning that it’s not presented in chronological order. Time jumps back and forth.

The opening scene takes place in 1981 and has Barris standing naked in a New York hotel room, facing a TV. With long hair and a thick beard, he is barely recognizable. Penny (Drew Barrymore), one of his many girlfriends, comes knocking at his door. She tells him that she won’t wait forever to marry him. But Chuck isn’t moved by her comments. He remains enclosed in his room and the story then begins.

”Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” isn’t the kind of movie you appreciate once the end credits start rolling. It’s more a film that grows on you two or three days later. Images and scenes will probably remain in your thoughts, because the movie is well photographed. Its shaded cinematography make it somewhat intriguing. It’s dim, feels cold, and the same can be said about Rockwell’s character.

Sam Rockwell is known for playing “out-of-control” characters. But he expands more on his style, here. Thanks to writer Charlie Kaufman’s script and Clooney’s impressive direction, Rockwell shines.

The movie worked for me, because I never read Barris’ autobiography. It was all new to me. Many claim that Barris was obsessed with fame. He loved being talked about and respected. He loved his starry life until studios slowly shut him out. So, the big question is, did Barris make up lies in his autobiography to regain notice? Was he really a member of the CIA and did he really murder all those people? Rockwell spent a great deal of time with the real Barris on the set of the film. During an interview, Rockwell said he was tempted to ask Barris those questions but never did.

We don’t really know the truth and Clooney uses that to his advantage, to lure us into the movie and leaves us wondering.

 

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