out of Five
Running time: 107
Impressive directorial debut with a great performance from Sam Rockwell – darkly funny, surprising and very enjoyable, there’s enough here to suggest that Clooney should direct again.
Clearly, George Clooney’s time spent with regular collaborators the Coen Brothers (O Brother Where Art Thou?, the upcoming Intolerable Cruelty) and Steven Soderbergh (Solaris, Out of Sight, Ocean’s 11) has not been spent in vain. Reputedly, he frequently ‘spends all his time on set’ and now we know why. For his directorial debut, he’s fashioned a stylish, funny, superbly acted and extremely enjoyable drama that employs a variety of directorial tricks and flourishes but never at the expense of the story.
Gameshow Host Assassin
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is based on the supposedly autobiographical novel by Chuck Barris, who is best known in the States as the creator of The Dating Game (basically Blind Date) and The Gong Show.
In the book, Barris claims that he was secretly recruited by the CIA and that he actually performed a number of assassinations while leading his double life as a TV host. Naturally, these claims were dismissed as fantasy, but, to the film’s credit, it doesn’t come down on one side or the other, thanks to an impressive script by Charlie ‘Adaptation’ Kaufman.
Sam Rockwell plays Barris and, after an initial prologue in which he’s
bearded, naked and holed up in an apartment fending off Drew Barrymore, we pick up his life just before he breaks into television at the ground floor. Shortly afterwards, he hooks up with Barrymore’s free-spirited hippy and his career takes off when he comes up with the idea for The Dating Game. However, when he meets the mysterious Jim Byrd (George Clooney, sporting quiff and Comedy Moustache), he’s made an offer he can’t refuse…
Rockwell is superb as Barris and proves himself more than capable of
carrying a major film (after years spent comprehensively stealing scenes in other movies), even if he is still the last name on the poster. In fact, the role is vaguely similar to Steve Coogan’s turn as Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People – neither Wilson nor Barris were particularly well liked and yet Coogan and Rockwell brilliantly capture the charisma of their characters.
There’s terrific support too, not just from Clooney but also from unlikely sources such as Rutger Hauer (emerging from Video Hell for a brilliant cameo) and Julia Roberts as Barris’ seductive contact (“You’re not like the other murderers…”) Look out too for blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from The Lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal (soon to be much better known), Steven Soderbergh and – in a hilariously inspired bit of casting - two of the more famous members of Ocean’s 11.
Clooney’s direction is extremely impressive. He makes bold use of garish colour for his tacky 70s TV sets and pulls out a number of clever tricks (imaginative split screen work, freeze-frames, different colour stocks, flash-cutting etc) to move the story along. In other hands, this could easily have been distracting, but far from detracting from the story, the effects serve to subtly emphasise the possible fantasy element of the story. At any rate, Clooney can afford to hold his head up high alongside other actors-turned-director and there’s more than enough here to suggest that he should continue directing.
In short, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is an enjoyable, well-acted, stylishly directed film, if a little on the unusual side. It is also, frequently extremely funny. Recommended.