Dir: George Clooney. US 2002. 112mins
George Clooney dons two hats for Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind - actor and director - but that's nothing compared to the double life that the film's real-life protagonist enjoys. If former TV game show creator Chuck Barris (The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Gong Show) is to be believed, he was a TV producer by day and a CIA assassin by night, with 33 kills under his belt. Fact or fiction' Only Barris knows.
While Clooney reveals a strong visual sense and an unusually sure hand in his directorial debut - and Rockwell gives a terrific performance in the lead - the picture's lack of a marquee-name star in the lead role to play alongside all the glamorous cameos and Barris' own lack of profile outside the US (nor will many people inside the US recognise the name) greatly diminishes its chances of commercial success. Competition from Spike Jonze's even more absurdist comedy, Adaptation, will further cut into box office potential (ironic, given that Charlie Kaufman wrote both screenplays).
A pioneer in the TV game show arena, Barris was the first to use contestants' spontaneous reactions, rather than scripted answers, on air. Wildly popular with the public, the programmes were vilified by high-brow critics, who found the level of entertainment to be shallow and almost offensively mindless.
Based on Barris' 1982, self-described 'unofficial autobiography', the film starts with a naked and freaked out Barris (Rockwell), who has locked himself in a hotel room in the midst of a total nervous breakdown. His long-time girlfriend Penny (a sparkling Barrymore), stands outside the door, trying to talk her way in.
The story is told in flashback, chronicling the ambitious go-getter's rise to professional success, his (alleged) recruitment by the CIA (in the person of a wonderfully deadpan Clooney) and his numerous missions for the covert agency. He revelled in his secret life, merging the two when he carried out assignments while chaperoning Dating Game winners on their romantic get-aways to far-flung places like Berlin and Helsinki.
Along the way he meets mysterious femme fatale Patricia (Roberts, paying good-natured homage to film noir bad girls), who may or may not be a figment of his fantasies. As obsessed with sex as Auto Focus' Bob Crane, Barris was an inveterate womaniser who could not see that he had already found the perfect woman in Penny. Eventually Barris starts to unravel, but Rockwell does a bang-up job of conveying this, the script fails to explain what precipitates this. Is he having qualms about killing people' Does the cancellation of his shows send him off the deep end' With two demanding jobs, is he simply spreading himself too thin'
That Barris is a sleazy character does not help. Rockwell gives him what, under normal circumstances, might be a mitigating naivete but the audience has seen too much unappealing behaviour to cut him any slack. Indeed, the suspicion is that the film version is kinder and gentler than the real article - and it is difficult to root for someone that unsavoury.
Admiring the talent and skill that went into the film, however, is easy. As a director, Clooney's sense of composition and framing is unusually developed for a first-timer, as is his overall vision of the film's multiple looks. Nor does working with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel hurt. As Sigel proved in Three Kings, an earlier outing with actor Clooney, he knows how to capture a mood, suggest an emotion and tell a story both through creative shooting and postproduction manipulation of images. He and Clooney are an exceptionally sympatico teaming.
In the end, however, the film proves more impressive than memorable. Given how beautifully the individual parts work - the acting, directing, cinematography and editing - it seems to be a case of the parts simply being greater than the whole.
Pro co: Mad Chance Productions, Section Eight
US dist: Miramax
Int'l dist: BVI
Exec prods: Steven Soderbergh, Rand Ravich, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jon Gordon and Stephen Evans
Prod: Andrew Lazar
Scr: Charlie Kaufman, based on the book by Chuck Barris)
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Prod des: James D Bissell
Ed: Stephen Mirrione
Music: Alex Wurman
Main cast: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Clooney, Rutger Hauer