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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