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Movie Review: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind
Posted by Dr. Tom on Jan 28, 2003, 17:50


Starring Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, and Julia Roberts
Written by Charlie Kaufman, based on the book by Chuck Barris
Released by Miramax Films; Rated R; 113 minutes
Directed by George Clooney

The best antidote for so-called “reality TV” to come along in a while, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind deliberately obfuscates the line between fantasy and reality, crosses it at whim, and never ceases to entertain while keeping the audience guessing as to what actually happened and what is merely clever invention.

Based on TV producer Chuck Barris’ “unauthorized autobiography,” Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind shows Barris balancing his jobs as a game show producer and host with being an assassin for the CIA in his spare time. Best known for such anti-game shows as “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game,” and “The Gong Show,” Barris is actually in some way responsible for the wave of “reality TV” that currently inundates our airwaves. Schlock like “The Real World,” “Blind Date” and “Survivor” all have their roots in Barris’ skewed game shows, and the movie is a smart enough satire to know this while mocking it every step of the way.

Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell, in a breakout performance) gets no satisfaction from his life as a minor suit working for the TV networks. He is frustrated with his career and with love. Meeting Penny (Drew Barrymore) changes the latter, but their relationship is inconsistent and hard to define. Barris has an idea for a radically different game show: The Dating Game, where contestants pick the person they want to go on a date with, then tell all about the experience afterward. We’ve all seen it in several forms, under several different names, since the original. While working on a show, Barris is approached by a CIA man (George Clooney) who sends him into training for the assassin’s life.

Whether or not Barris actually worked as a CIA hitman is very debatable. Several TV personalities and “Gong Show” regulars attest that he would go away for a week or a weekend without any notice, and come back as suddenly as he left. Most biopics make it a point to depict their subject as accurately as possible; they take a few dramatic liberties in the name of telling a good story, but that’s all. With Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, it’s hard to tell what really happened – maybe all of it did, though I tend to strongly doubt it – and what were creations of Barris’ fertile imagination. The film, appropriately enough, is an anti-biopic.

While on his alleged spy adventures, Barris teams up with a German counterpart (Rutger Hauer) and partners (in more ways than one) with female agent Patricia (Julia Roberts). Barris claims to have killed 33 people while working for the CIA; only a handful of them made the big screen. A few of the assassin escapades are a priori implausible: the spy exchange at the German border involving an unexpected Soviet spy, and the encounter with the CIA mole, which is not helped by the murky directing.

Be it mostly fact or mostly fiction, however, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is a fun ride. Clooney shows a competent hand as director in his first effort; some minor quibbles with his shot selection aside, I think he did a good job. Drew Barrymore is good in the role of Penny, though I imagine a lot of actresses would have produced similar results with the part. Best in the film is Sam Rockwell, who goes from manic to panic, and from exuberance to depression, very well. Barris’ life seems to be something of an emotional roller coaster, and Rockwell captures the screaming downhills and the sedate uphills with equal aplomb.

It’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s invention in Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, but it soon becomes apparent that it doesn’t matter. Skeptics will enjoy this movie as much as unfortunates who take things like this as gospel. Either Barris led a very interesting life, or he led an ordinary show biz life while sprucing up its duller moments with the power of his revenge fantasies. Either way, the movie is worth seeing. 8/10

Dr. Tom
(Remove the leading X from each field to holler back at me)
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