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We all remember Chuck Barris as the creator of some of television's most
successful - albeit notoriously mind-numbing - game shows: `The Dating
Game,' `The Newlywed Game,' and `The Gong Show.' But did you know that he
was also a hit man for the CIA? Well, that's what he claims, straight from
his own `unauthorized autobiography' entitled `Confessions of a Dangerous
Mind,' which has now been made into a movie by director George Clooney and
writer Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman is known for devising elaborately absurd
scenarios for his fictional films (`Being John Malkovich,' `Adaptation'
etc.), yet even Kaufman, in his wildest fantasies, could not have come up
with a more bizarre premise than the one this real life story affords. No
wonder he was drawn to this material. They are a perfect fit. In the world
of movies, who says fact isn't stranger than fiction?
In many ways, Barris was one of the men responsible for starting the trend towards `reality television' that so dominates network programming today. His most famous hits (especially `The Gong Show') were all based on the premise that millions of Americans would be willing to humiliate themselves in public for a few moments of fleeting fame and that millions more would tune in to bear witness to the spectacle. Barris, craving fame himself, was simply savvy enough to plug into that national mood - and managed to make himself a fortune and turn himself into a household name in the process. What most of us didn't know about Barris at the time was that, while all this was going on, he was ostensibly leading a double life as a secret agent, tracking down and killing any number of `bad guys,' all in the name of `national security.'
Given the inherently incredible, jaw-dropping nature of the material, George Clooney, in his directorial debut, brings an appropriately surrealistic tone to the work. He employs a number of visual devices that help to fragment the world in which the story takes place. Certain scenes break through the constraints of time and space, as when Barris is talking on the phone in his apartment to an ABC executive, who is sitting in his office, and the two locations become one on the screen. The sense of dislocation this technique creates perfectly reflects the mental split occurring in Barris' own disturbed psyche. This style is further enhanced by the use of slightly off-kilter camera angles, color filtering and sepia tones in some of the shots. Scenarist Charlie Kaufman, as always, brings his own quirky vision to bear on the material. He cleverly balances the two `sides' of Barris' life, transitioning smoothly between those scenes revolving around his career as TV show producer and those revolving around his career as CIA operative. Moreover, Kaufman does a nice job getting inside the head of this man who is trying to fight the demons of his own past, make a name for himself in the high stakes world of network programming, cope with his own inadequacies as a person, and come to terms with the vile things he is doing in his secret life all at the same time.
As Barris, Sam Rockwell gives a terrific, high-energy performance, capturing the sadness and paranoia of a man who seems to know deep down inside that his fame is probably undeserved, built as it is on mediocre ideas and a willingness to exploit the baser instincts of human nature. Drew Barrymore brings her usual charm to the role of Penny, Barris' one true love and the only person genuinely drawn to Barris as a person, even though he is unable to commit himself to her fully, preferring instead to keep the relationship `casual' and uncommitted. Barris finds it impossible to make a real, meaningful connection to another human being, so twisted has he become in his value system and bizarre lifestyle. Rounding out the cast are Clooney himself, as the mysterious CIA agent who draws Barris into this strange netherworld of intrigue and danger, Rutger Hauer, as a fellow hit man who pours out his feelings about his chosen occupation to Barris, Julia Roberts, as the icy cool CIA operative who pops up at various moments and in various places to keep an eye on the young recruit, and even Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, who show up for a truly hilarious cameo appearance together, one that had the audience at the screening I attended howling with delight.
The $64,000 question becomes, of course, is this story even remotely true, or is it merely another case of this master showman's playing the public for all its worth? I haven't the slightest idea. The filmmakers certainly take it all very seriously, as evidenced by the fact that they have various friends and business acquaintances of Barris (Dick Clark, Jay P. Morgan) providing interviews for the film, interviews which hint at the dark possibility that the basis of the story might indeed be factual, given the kind of person these people claim Barris is. This gives the film a kind of pseudo-documentary realism that heightens the verisimilitude of what we are seeing on screen. Whether the film is really a true story or merely a grand lark perpetrated on an increasingly credulous audience, the fact is that `Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' turns out to be a thoroughly entertaining, utterly loony piece of original filmmaking.
`Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' marks an auspicious debut for Clooney as a director, who, in his work behind the camera, demonstrates a thorough command of vision and style. One looks forward to his next endeavor.
One of Charlie Kaufman's more overlooked and underrated screenplays,
'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' may have been something of a
departure from the high-concept experimentalism that made his previous
brainchildren, 'Being John Malkovich' and 'Adaptation' (a masterpiece
and a near-masterpiece, respectively) such striking breaths of fresh
air, but on no account should its ability to engage and entertain on
those strengths of its own be underestimated. Taking a well-earned
break from the surreal situations and the complex plotting, Kaufman
turned his attention here to a much more straightforward yarn that was
better grounded in reality; the twist there being that it was based on
a story that, while allegedly true, just as likely never happened.
'Confessions' though is willing to give Chuck Barris the benefit of the
doubt in regards to his dubious claims to have been a secret assassin
for the CIA in the midst of his days as a game show host, giving life
to such controversial classic as 'the Gong Show' and 'the Dating Game'
while taking it from a range of human targets around the globe. It sits
back and lets the scenario unfold without question and does so with
such considerable spirit and vigour that it's hard not to get lured in
and pulled along for the ride. Regardless of whether the real-life
Barris truly did have some incredible adventures within his time, or
simply an overly-active imagination, this movie translates it into one
heck of an enjoyable romp slick, stylish and entrancing on the
surface, and with a bracingly poignant and sobering tale lurking
Kaufman continues to rule supreme with his flair for developing the most heavily flawed and eccentric of characters, investing them with witty dialogue and sharp situations and, as with his previous screenplays, the humour is a pleasantly mixed bag lightly amusing at some points, laugh-out-loud hilarious at others, even outright alarming whenever it needs to be. George Clooney's direction, meanwhile, though it stands a fair distance from the eye-seizing zippiness that we're used to seeing Spike Jonze apply to this writer's workings, is still an accomplished visual take on the material, made sensational by its meticulous attention to detail. Indeed, the film's fondness for subtle in-jokes, crafty cameos (some great ones among the Dating Game contestants absolutely great), background gags and general all-round intricacy is partly what makes it so rewarding and worthy of repeated viewings (I was watching it for what must have been sixth or seventh time last night, and still I found myself picking up a whole range of details that I somehow missed out on the first few times around). Sure, things can move a tad slowly every now and then, but with this number of niceties up there to be marvelled at you know you're never for a second going to be bored.
It also draws a fine contrast between the two separate pursuits that Chuck Barris is called to follow the game show scenes are colourful, light-hearted fun, the assassin scenes murky and deliciously paranoid, and Sam Rockwell, at the helm as our savvy and hapless main man, has the timing, the energy and the appeal to emerge from the two as both a comic figure and a tragic one. Kicking off as a likable, familiar kind of anti-hero, whose goofy grin and offhand ways have us smiling through the bar fights and the womanising, he gradually evolves into something more enigmatic and sorrowful; a lost, confused individual whose more innocuous contributions to society, in the form of lowbrow 'trash TV', are widely scorned (not that I've ever seen any of the genuine Chuck Barris's shows myself, but it would amaze me if they were really any worse than the kind of mind-numbing reality TV that's enjoyed popularity over the past few years), while the hidden talent he discovers in contract killing begins to understandably repulse him soon enough. One of the most effective things about 'Confessions' is just how deftly it uses its gags and its pathos, along with interview snippets from those who were acquainted with the real-life Barris, which punctuate the story at various points, to reflect upon this man, his life, and just how much he really achieved either way, arriving in the end at quite a biting conclusion. I don't think that any other rendition of 'If I had a Hammer' could feel nearly as sad and haunting as it does here.
Drew Barrymore and Clooney himself offer nice support all the while, each epitomising different ends of the Chuck Barris spectrum Barrymore, as Chuck's bubbly girlfriend Penny, is a fun-loving innocent; Clooney, as his CIA director, is aptly subtle and mysterious. But neither of them, or anyone else involved for a matter of fact, comes even close to upstaging Rockwell, whose input is simply fantastic there's no doubt in my mind that the Best Actor Award which, as the blurb on the DVD so proudly states, he picked up at the Berlin International Film Festival for his efforts, was well-and-truly earned.
It's not an innovative, far-out, one-of-a-kind experience (a la 'Being John Malkovich'). But it's an entertaining, well-made and entirely satisfying flick with one particularly brilliant stand-out performance, and that's more than enough to do the job. Kaufman can probably pen avant-garde better than anybody else today, but 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' goes to prove that, when in the right company, he can write 'normal' just as impressively.
What if the creator and host of two of the 1970s biggest and lamest
television game shows was also a part-time CIA hitman? That he used The
Dating Game and The Gong Show as a cover to stage assassinations in the
netherworld of Cold War espionage. Ridiculous you'd say. But that's what
exactly what Chuck Barris claims in his autobiography, and Charlie Kaufman
accepts carte blanche as the premise for his screenplay. The film plays it
straight up as if Barris were telling the truth.
Can Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter, and George Clooney, the director pull it off? Mostly. It is competently acted by Sam Rockwell as Barris, Julia Roberts as a fellow spy, Drew Barrymore as his love interest, and director George Clooney as his CIA recruiter and handler. The bizarre landscape, a marriage of television and espionage, is presented without a smirk or wink. If Barris is telling the truth, this is what it must have been like. It's an interesting idea, and Clooney and Kaufman have taken it and crafted an enjoyable film.
George Clooney's directorial debut is a compelling dramatic biopic about
`Gong Show' host Chuck Barris, who claims to be a hit man for the CIA.
Barris started out small, but decided to go for the big time and move to New
York, where he got a job at NBC. Soon he becomes a manager type person, and
creates an idea for a game show called `The Dating Game'. It becomes a hit,
but he feels unfulfilled, even though he has Penny (Drew Barrymore). Also,
Jim Byrd (Clooney) from the CIA recruits Barris to kill for the CIA. As we
watch the movie, we don't know which is true and which is a figment of his
imagination. Think of it as an R-rated Beautiful Mind.
Barris is played with great intensity by Sam Rockwell. Clooney took a risk of planting a not-well-known name as the lead. With such star power behind him like Clooney, Barrymore, and Julia Roberts, he stands out. Rockwell has starred in such movies before like Heist and The Green Mile, all three times with great acting. He brings out the inner demons of Barris. Rockwell was exceptional, and exceptionally believable. Even though he was billed fourth, he has his name out now and we can expect him in larger things.
Many scenes were standout, with their camera angles and unique way of playing it. At times it seemed like a play, with a wall disappearing, for instance. However, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind wasn't as funny as I was hoping. Sure, some scenes were quite funny (like the scenes in the beginning where it was a montage of the f-word). It had an authentic feel to the 60's (including the soundtrack), like Catch Me If You Can did. At times, it had a documentary style to it, which would have been more effective if they had more substance behind it, such as more of the interviews or none at all. Many of the camera shots were close-ups, which looked quite cool. I am a game show aficionado, so I thought that most of the time would be spent on Barris going onto the CIA, but it was evenly divided between the two, so I was happy.
At times, the mood was light-hearted, almost satirical, but at other points it was serious drama that poked at your emotions. As I said before, Rockwell is definitely lead material. Clooney did a good job portraying the CIA recruiter, and Barrymore is the other standout as Barris' girlfriend. She and Rockwell, besides good chemistry, both displayed true emotions. Roberts, as another CIA agent, put in her usual mediocre performance, though she was better than normal. However, many characters have no substance behind them, namely Roberts, who was billed third and had about three scenes (which, I guess, is better than Jennifer Aniston in Office Space).
Possible the only downpoint of the movie was that at times, it got too trippy for its own good. Even Barris didn't know what was real and what wasn't. It got a little too muddled in plot, such as who is who, at times. When Barris sees everyone who he killed, that was just weird. Anyway, I would highly recommend Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to about anyone.
My rating: 8/10
Rated R for language, sexual content and violence.
While quite very obviously a well crafted lie sold as truth this movie
does not fail to entertain and was one of the more underrated films of
the year of it's release. A commercial failure the film was re-released
later based on word of mouth buzz. This film appeals to a fringe
audience that remains just out of reach of mainstream films. What do
you expect from a screenplay written by Charlie Kaufmann? This film is
a telling of the story of Chuck Barris, creator of various TV shows and
all around uncomfortable guy. Barris holds many stations in life, TV
producer, songwriter and CIA assassin. The meat of this story is not so
much in his occupations but the mental condition and back story of
Barris throughout the film. With something lurking just below the
surface of an ambiguous nature you aren't certain if you should root
for Barris or despise him.
Through various twists and turns you follow what is one half mockumentary and one half spy thriller the film plays it very loose and fast and it let's your mind run wild and free without the burden of tension that a spy thriller would give. Definitely worth a watch if you enjoy strong acting performances mixed with offbeat plots.
Clooney takes what is basically a poor mans "THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE" and makes a very entertaining and watchable film with great acting and stylish but reigned in technique. Finally a someone takes the theory of taking a bad idea and making a fine film and makes good.
Chuck Barris is a man who decides that his future is in television and
to come up with ideas for new shows to elevate himself up from the
of tour guide. When his show isn't picked up from the pilot, he is
approached by Jim Byrd who offers him work with the CIA. When he finds
that this work is basically as an assassin, he still does it and begins to
become quite proficient at it. When his show ideas get picked up by the
network he continues to kill, using his job as a producer as
Although I missed this at the cinema, I was keen to get this film when it came out on DVD and wasn't disappointed by the film. The tone from the start is darkly comic, becoming increasingly dark and decreasingly comic as it goes along. Supposedly based on a true story this can be enjoyed with little or no knowledge of the characters and TV shows involved - indeed I had never heard of Barris even if I was aware of what UK TV calls Blind Date. I don't know if it makes it a better or worse film for supposedly being true - I enjoyed it even with me treating it like a work of fiction more than anything else.
Not all the plot really worked of course. As it gets darker it begins to lose it's grip and become slightly less entertaining but strangely more watchable. It is at it's best in the first half though. While Barris and Byrd are good characters, some aren't as well used and you get the impression that the script wishes they weren't involved at all, certainly Penny and Patricia were a little confused and what was hinted at was never revealed in terms of who they were.
Rockwell runs the film really well and copes with the comic stuff and the darker stuff. Clooney is quite a good character in a small role but he does better as director. He uses cross cuts really well and has a lot of help from his cinematographer in terms of effective use of lighting and such. Considering this is his debut as director he does a surprisingly assured job and has a good sense of style. Stars clutter the support cast, some in OK roles and some in cameos. Barrymore is OK but I didn't find her character that interesting, Roberts is more interesting but the significance of her character in Barris' life wasn't developed well enough. Hauer is good and Pitt, Damon and Gyllenhaal make fleeting appearances.
Overall this was a very enjoyable film with it's own unique dark tone and comic content. It may not be 100% successful but it is a film more worthy of viewing than most of the stuff that you see on the shelves at your local video store. Not to everyone tastes perhaps (and it didn't make money at the box office) but Rockwell is great, Clooney shows a deft touch as director and the story is both funny and dramatic even if I'm still unsure whether it is true (or semi-true) or not.
Since "ER" George Clooney has been a very popular actor, mainly because
so many women find him very attractive. But through the years he has
been able to prove that he's more than just a pretty face in the crowd.
He has acted in many popular movies and did it pretty well in most of
them. But being a good actor doesn't mean that you are automatically a
good director as well of course. So before seeing "Confessions of a
Dangerous Mind", his debut as a director, I had my doubts...
This time we don't get to see Clooney very often in the movie itself. We only get to see him a couple of times as the CIA agent who has hired the game show impresario and producer Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell). During the day Chuck invents game shows like 'The Dating Game', 'The Newlywed Game' and 'The Gong Show'... Shows that are all very successful, because they are easy to understand and fun to watch. But next to his regular day job he is also a CIA assassin. At least, that's what HE claims to be...
I must say that Clooney has done a very nice job in his debut as a director. He has added a nice surreal tone to this movie which makes it even harder to understand whether all this really happened or not. And even though this is a bio-pic, it is never hard to keep watching it or to stay focused. Thanks to the light and satirical feeling in it, this movie stays fun to watch from the beginning until the end. Of course without the interesting story and the good acting by all of his main actors Clooney wouldn't have been able to make this movie. Withouth them this movie wouldn't be the same and might even have been awful to watch. Especially Drew Barrymore was a lot better than I had expected. She never really convinced me in her other movies that I saw, but this time she's really good as Barris Sweetheart. And Clooney himself was interesting to watch as well. Even though he could be found more behind than in front of the camera, he still proves to be a talented actor.
Overall this is an interesting and fun movie. Certainly because it is Clooney's debut as a director. The man sure has a lot of talents and I'm already looking forward to his next movie as a director / actor. I give this one a 7.5/10.
"Confessions of a Dangerous MInd' was excellent and I'm surprised it
doesn't receive more credit.
The story is an 'autobiographical' tale of TV producer Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) who doubles as a CIA-assassin. The movie is based on the book with the same name and the beauty is that no one knows if Barris made up this story or if the events are true. Regardless of its reality or not, the film is a tremendous example of great movie making.
This is an all-star movie. George Clooney stars as CIA-agent Jim Byrd and also directs the film. He has such a cinematic eye. The scenes in which he incorporates the movie with real- life clips of the game shows is brilliant. The acting is superb with Rockwell delivering what should have been at least a Golden Globe nomination. Also in the movie is Drew Barrymore (delivering one of her better roles), Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer, and cameos by Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Maggie Gyllenthaal. The cinematography is superb, and Director of Photography, Newton Thomas Sigel, creates a film with such innovative lighting and tones, and to top it off, the screen play is written by one of Hollywood's best, Charlie Kaufmann (wrote 'Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine).
The movie was shadowy but not dark, humorous but not too light, mysterious but not deceptive and was honestly one of the most original films I've seen in a long time.
The only minor hiccups I had with the movie was 1) inaccuracies with aging characters. Barris was born in 1928, yet the scenes in the late 1970s and early 1980s he looks like he's still in his thirties! At least the movie was consistent in not aging any of the characters; and 2) I felt the pace dragged slightly at times. There were moments when I felt the momentum falter inexplicably and the opener was slightly slow as well.
But those details are very minor and do not take away from the strength of this film. This is an engaging film, one that is intelligent and well-written, one that is acted superbly and crafted with such subtle craftsmanship from the best Hollywood has to offer. Great film! I'm surprised it doesn't get more credit
8 out of 10!
Let me start by saying my respect for Clooney as a producer and now a
director continue to go up. Backing this one was also Steven
Soderbergh... and as a result you get stellar (for scale only)
performances by Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore. Also watch for Brad
Pitt and Matt Damon in fleeting, non-speaking cameo roles.
The film (and book) explore the double life of Chuck Barris who was once described as lowering the bar on television for ever. The double life however, is the life of a CIA contract assassin.
The premise is hard to buy into. But then again, so was the man. True or not, the film and story raise Barris up to the level of Andy Kauffman. In a Tyler Durdensque manner this Beautiful Mind takes you thru Barris' theoretical hell or coming to terms with his own personality foibles.
Rockwell is spot on in his portrayal both on and off the small screen as Barris. The reproduction of Gong Show Antics are spooky to say the least. The film is inter-cut with appearances from actual colleagues from Barris' past (such as J.P. Morgan, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, and others) in an almost Harry-Met-Sally style of nostalgic interview.
Clooney's use of live scene cuts to transition fluidly from thought to thought or scene to scene are reminiscent of The Graduate's Poolside swan-dive directly into Mrs. Robinson's bed. This is a film that has a touch of "Fight Club", "Forrest Gump", and "La Femme Nikita"... all tied together by the man that brought up Rip Taylor's $1.98 Beauty Show.
The film presents more questions than it answers. Matter of fact the only question the film really answers is whether or not someone really answered the weirdest place they ever had whoopie.
I saw this on Starz thanks to the marvel that is Tivo. The DVD is now definitely on my wish list.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
You can't wring much sympathy out of seeing a bad movie. Sure, you blew a couple bucks, you wasted a couple hours. But it was just a movie, right? It's not as though you were in a prison camp. It's not like they shoved bamboo under your fingernails, or beat your shins with a rubber hose. Well, not usually. Bad movies are as common as houseflies, and in general not more distressing. But now and then comes alon something so traumatic, so brutally awful, that it can scarcely be called a movie at all. Last night we survived such a film:
"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," the new outrage from Miramax Pictures. What separates the ordinary flop from an atrocity like "Confessions?" A run-of-the-mill dud is hashed together, formulaic, and shallow; therefore light, minimally satisfying, and unpretentious. To truly torment, a film must be the opposite: slow, ruminating, self-serious. It must dispense with formula, and enter the 'experimental' realm from which plot, narrative, conflict, and drive are banished. It can't be artless; it must be 'important,' brainy, thick with literary quotations and poetic devices. Chuck Barris, creator of "The Gong Show "and "The Newlywed Game," really does claim to have been a C.I.A. assassin. He wrote a book to this effect. A skillful filmmaker might have turned that book into a small, funny, charmingly absurd picture. Instead, Clooney and Screenwriter Charles Kaufman twisted it into an abortive, operatic pseudo-tragedy. The character of Barris , played by Sam Rockwell, is totally without appeal, interest, or charisma.
The film examines him minutely from his sexually perverted youth until his burnt-out collapse as an accomplished mass killer, yet he never changes. Even his hairstyle stays the same. His loveless, interminable affair with a semi-retarded girl (Drew Barrymore, who should be fed hemlock for her performance) likewise drifts along, unaffected by any outside influence. Barris's dozens of sexual dalliances, like his dozens of murders, fall like pebbles into a dark well. What feelings he has come through mostly as grinding voiced-over monologues. The result is a muddy tableau: violent, yet not horrifying, pornographic, yet not sexy, vulgar, yet not human; both cerebral and stupid, both voluble and meaningless.
The only pleasures to be found here are in the loving recreations of TV's yesteryears. Breathes there a man with soul so dead as feels no nostalgia for the Unknown Comic, or the sound of Jamie Farr's mallet hitting The Gong? Yet if anything these flashes of lowbrow brilliance only increase our longing to escape the nightmare of "Confessions." Nothing resembles the levity of "The Newlywed Game" so little as watching Julia Roberts as a sophisticated assassin, holed up in an East Berlin hotel room with her guns, quoting Nabokov and mispronouncing his name.
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