Remember Chuck Barris, the host of "The Gong Show," the producer of "The Dating Game?" I don't, since I wasn't alive when his shows were on the air, but apparently he was also a CIA hit man that killed 33 people over the course of his career. Based on Barris' "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography," George Clooney's directorial debut is an intriguing and original movie that just isn't always very engaging.
Clooney, known throughout the industry as the ultimate prankster, applies his sense of humor to his first movie, creating an odd, slightly off-the-wall drama-comedy about a television host/CIA hit man. Is it fact? Is it fiction? Who knows, and Clooney never gives a definite answer one way or another. The movie, of course, tells the story from the viewpoint that this alter ego of Chuck Barris really happened, but Clooney, well aware of the skepticism surrounding the validity of the book (and probably based on his own distrust as well), never sets things in stone. There's no twist at the end, but the slightly surreal and out-of-order progression at Barris' life hints that we are just looking at the figment of one's imagination. Then again, are we?
Regardless of what really happened in Chuck Barris' past, "Confessions" tells an interesting story, one that has love, sex, success, failure and many murders all wrapped up in a nice little bow. Barris (Sam Rockwell) leaves his first girlfriend after she says she thinks she is pregnant, and then ends up meeting his lifelong partner (Drew Barrymore) after sleeping with her roommate. Once in the CIA, though, he engages in activities with a mysterious contact named Patricia (Julia Roberts). As he says, he can only love in his special way.
The movie is pretty funny, especially in the first half. Clooney has a knack for storytelling, especially in an original way that is refreshing to see. Clooney's editing work is good; he runs many timelines at the same time and very rarely encounters any kinds of problems. However, all good things come to an end and the combination of Clooney's attempt to make something different and the mood of the script start to wear on the audience after a while. The comedy becomes more spread out, and Clooney dives into Barris' mind, which is a dark, confused place that equally confuses the audience. At this point, half an hour from the ending, Clooney should have sat back and calmed himself - paced himself, even - and thought about what would be best for the audience. Not everything needs to be different.
Sam Rockwell does a superb job as the troubled TV show host. He won't win an Oscar for it, but this role should help propel him to more in the future. Despite the cast that surrounds him (George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, all in smaller parts), he outshines them, fitting into character perfectly. Hey, he even gets to upstage Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, who both are given about five seconds combined of screen time.
"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is a compelling comedy-drama about a life that may or may not have happened. Clooney does a good job of playing off of that uncertainty, and also manages the comedy and drama with ease. Rockwell helps smooth out the edges. "Confessions" isn't a fabulous movie, but it is a good start, an entertaining film that just grows tired at the end.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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