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CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Sam Rockwell, Rutger Hauer
Director: George Clooney
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: September 9, 2003

“My name is Charles Hirsch Barris. I have written pop songs. I have been a television producer. I am responsible for polluting the airwaves with mind numbing puerile entertainment. In addition, I have murdered 33 human beings.”

Film ***1/2

I vaguely remember watching repeated episodes of The Gong Show in my younger years, but at the time I wasn’t familiar with the eccentric persona of Chuck Barris, the show’s host who also conceived such landmark television game shows as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. Now I’ve come to realize that he was to broadcast TV what Andy Kaufman was to the stand up world. You could never really get a sense of where this guy was going with his wacky on-screen persona.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, adapted from Barris’ autobiography of the same name, offers a vivid explanation as to why Barris behaved the way he did while in front of the camera. Although Barris himself has never said that anything in his story is absolutely true, the film does do a convincing job at suggesting that the television personality led uniquely dark double life. Like the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon, this story, comprised of allegedly true events is striking in the way its strange allegations reflect the personality of the lead character.

Barris is played with astonishing accuracy by the dynamic Sam Rockwell, who we will definitely be seeing more of following this wonderful breakthrough performance. The film opens in the early 80s, with Barris standing in his darkened apartment, staring at a snow-filled TV set. As he stands there, he recalls the events of what he refers to as a “wasted life”, which led to his present state. Barris quickly recalls that his first noted flaw in life was women. Encountering many different women in his early years, he would succeed in numerous one night stands, and always wanting something more.

One night, he meets the beautiful and witty Penny (Drew Barrymore), the roommate of one of Chuck’s latest one night stand. Penny is an all around free spirit, engaging in the same lustful manner that Chuck is experimenting in. They develop an immediate attraction, but only on a physical level, as neither is interested much in settling down, making this the ideal woman for him.

Barris always wanted a job in television, having always been fascinated by the art form. He gets his first big gig as a backstage worker on American Bandstand. It is at this point where Barris spontaneously found himself writing lyrics to what would become the number one hit, “Palisades Park”. One day, while spending time with Penny, Barris is soon given an idea for a game show that would become The Dating Game, and soon he is on his way to the top, even though this and future television project would be regarded by some critics as the destruction of Western civilization.

Barris’ sudden television success eventually attracts interests from everyone, including the office of National Security. He is soon confronted by mysterious CIA representative Jim Byrd (Clooney) with an offer to participate in some top secret extra curricular activities. Convinced that he fits a so-called profile, Barris is sent to a discreet location for proper training, and soon afterward becomes a hit man for the CIA.   The second job will fill in quite good with his game show work, as he awards trips for the winning couples to the same overseas destination where he is to carry out his next assignment. 

Sam Rockwell’s recreation of Chuck Barris is so right on the money that I’m astonished that it didn’t garner an Oscar nod. Those familiar with his on screen antics on The Gong Show, which had many suspecting Barris high as the highest kite, will be floored by the authenticity of Rockwell’s performance. In addition, Julia Roberts has a couple of scenes, in a role she reportedly did for nothing, and delivers some of here most brave work to date. Barrymore and Clooney also shine as always in their supporting roles.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind marks the directorial debut of George Clooney, who can now be considered a double threat, as I find this to be by far one of the best directorial efforts from a big name movie star. Clooney also picked the perfect project for his first stab at directing. Clooney’s father was a director of TV game shows, allowing him as a backstage observer to gather all the research he would ever need.

Adapted by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who I’m surprised is still able to pen even three words after writing something like Adaptation, the movie succeeds at painting true life figures in a truly bizarre atmosphere. The film also breathes in a documentary feel to it by including scattered interview snippets with those who knew the real Chuck Barris, including Dick Clark, Jim Lange, and Gong Show favorite Gene Gene The Dancing Machine.

Like Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a striking portrait of a man who at one point was on top of the world, but didn’t know where to direct his happiness and ended up leading something of a double life, even though Chuck Barris’s story ends on a much happier note than that of Bob Crane’s. Clooney proves himself as a serious filmmaker, and the performance by Sam Rockwell is something of a knockout revelation.

BONUS TRIVIA: Look closely, and you’ll spot Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven buddies Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as Bachelor’s 1 and 2 in a Dating Game segment.

Video ****

Miramax boasts one of their most outstanding looking discs to date with this release. Clooney’s film is shot in a unique format, much similar to the look of the actor’s 1999 film Three Kings. The picture contains momentary instances of high-contrast images, most notably in the many interview segments, as well as broad use of coloring. So don’t be thrown off by the eccentric look, it was purposely created for the movie. High marks all the way!

Audio ***

The supplied 5.1 track is quite lively. The surround sound quality comes into superb effect at certain points, especially during the game show and Gong Show sequences. Dialogue is heard perfectly, momentary music playback is delivered dynamically, and a few technical sound effects get a good use as well.

Features ****

No need to bang the gong for this area! Miramax has delivered the goods this time around with a neat package that includes a commentary track with George Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, six behind the scenes vignettes, deleted scenes with optional commentary, Sam Rockwell’s screen tests, several recreated Gong Show acts (very funny), a documentary titled “The Real Chuck Barris”, a still gallery, and bonus trailers.

Summary:

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind will be both a kick for those familiar with Chuck Barris, as well as those who’ve never experienced his wild and crazy antics through this terrific biopic which marks a superb directing first for George Clooney.