For years, it was considered one of the best unproduced screenplays around. And now "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" (IMDb listing) has finally made its way into theaters, courtesy of George Clooney.
Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) has lead a private, curious life. In the 1980s, he sat down to write his autobiography, which detailed his stretch as a suit for NBC, and his rise to fame as the creator of "The Gong Show," "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game." The book also described Barris' little known adventures as a government assassin, and how the "cash and prizes" awarded on the game shows were actually opportunities for Barris to travel the globe trying to stamp out communists and revolutionaries. With the help of his mentor, CIA agent Jim Byrd (George Clooney), the love of another assassin (Julia Roberts), and the loyalty of his long time girlfriend (Drew Barrymore), Barris lived an outrageous life, the truth of which is still in question to this day.
Making his directorial debut is George Clooney, who finally decided to step behind the camera when nobody else wanted to, or could, make this film. "Confessions" is a tough project, written by noted surrealist Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation"), requiring tight narrative control and a skillful visual hand to successfully commit this already paper thin story to the screen. Backed by some of his pal Steven Soderbergh's crew, Clooney brings to the table an abundance of stylistically tricky visual ideas to thread this story, including now-predictable grimy cinematography, quirky framing and long takes. It isn't enough to keep "Confessions" the rollicking mind game that it purports to be in its opening moments. Since there is so much to contemplate with Barris' tale, most importantly its validity, I was hoping for an epic feel to the journey. I wanted to see all the colors in between Barris' trek from curious teen to burnt out, and widely known has-been. For the first 45 minutes, Clooney feels the same way, zipping through Barris' life with an ease that's surprising for a first-time director. With a dedication to seamless scene transitions not witnessed since, maybe, 1992's "Hoffa," Clooney keeps the film light, and even a little fun.
That changes when the story proceeds to darker tales. Clooney loses these moments with attempts at bizarre symbolism, and just plain old inertia. We stop learning about what makes Barris tick. The tires go flat, and the film has little to redeem it from then on out. It turns into this redundant, slow-burning downward spiral focusing on Barris' infidelity, depression and paranoia. The idea for this film is that Barris might or might not be telling the truth about his glorious killing days, and the picture is interspersed with former compatriots dishing about the accuracy behind Barris' claims. One gets the feeling that Clooney sides with Barris' stories, and the second half of the film drags like a man who has lost his adventurous impartiality.
Giving a full performance, in place of his usual annoying spastic dance, Sam Rockwell shines in the role of Barris. An actor who rarely tests himself ("Galaxy Quest," "The Green Mile"), Rockwell swallows all of his go-for-joke traits, and becomes Chuck Barris in a way that's artistic and impressive. Equally as good is Clooney, who only appears in the film for a few moments, but his time shared with Rockwell makes for the picture's best scenes.
"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is an enigmatic picture that lowers in quality as it goes. In the end, you never learn too much about Barris, and, frustratingly, that's just the way Clooney and Kaufman want it.
Filmfodder Grade: C+