Director: George Clooney
Starring: Sam Rockwell. Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer and George Clooney.
113 mins Cert 15
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind really shouldn’t work. Chuck Barris’ autobiographical tale of rising to the top of US TV production, writing hit songs and, apparently, a secret life as a CIA hitman contains such disparate visual and thematic concepts it’s surely a recipe for disaster. Yet somehow George Clooney, making his directorial debut, has hung these images together to create a funny, touching, disturbing and entertaining movie.
Barris (Rockwell), an inveterate womaniser, sought to make it big in TV in the 1960s. Eventually he struck gold with The Dating Game, known in the UK as Blind Date. His career in television spanned over two decades and brought more successes in the form of shows such as The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, which he also hosted.
During this period he enjoyed a rocky on-off romance with Penny (Barrymore) and, if Barris is to be believed, was recruited as a hitman by CIA operative Jim Byrd (Clooney). This secret life as a hitman offers a strange counterpoint to the colourful world of 1960s gameshows. Here in this world of cold war skulduggery Barris comes into contact with other agents such as Keeler (Rutger Hauer) and Patricia (Roberts).
The cinematography and design of the film is exemplary. The sixties televisual experience is rendered in glorious vivid Technicolor, yet the covert missions to Berlin and Helsinki take on a film noir washed out quality. These exact opposites seem to work together, highlighting Barris’ double life. They work because they are both exaggerated caricatures of the period, shown more from Barris’ memory than as realistic portrayals of the age.
TV history buffs will also enjoy the confirmation of the Newlywed Game urban legend which actually uses the real film of the event. Viewers should also keep a look out for some very famous contestants on The Dating Game.
It’s a larger than life drama that is at times a dark comedy at other times a disturbing look into madness. Sam Rockwell puts in a star turn as Barris, a driven, crazy performance that makes the audience warm to this larger-than-life figure. Clooney must be congratulated on holding the film together; no mean feat for his debut behind the lens, and his portrayal of CIA agent Jim Byrd is a strangely likeable and unusual master spy.
We can forgive him for the 33 assassinations, but can we forgive him for giving us Blind Date? Was Chuck Barris really a CIA hitman? Could the man who created some of TVs most enduring shows really have killed 33 people? This film doesn’t really answer that. It’s an entertaining look at a piece of televisual and cold war history as told by a man that was at least involved in one of those aspects during the 60s and 70s. It’s a strange but enjoyable tale told well and you may leave the cinema believing this version of Chuck Barris, the TV producer and hitman, is perhaps Barris’ most entertaining creation.