Based on biographical novel, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the story of the crazed life of famed TV game show host/producer Chuck Barris who led a double-life as the host of The Gong Show and claims that he was an agent for the CIA. Directed and starring George Clooney and screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, the film explores Barris’ life as well as the possibility that he was an assassin for the CIA as Sam Rockwell plays the controversial figure. Also starring Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Rutger Hauer. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind for all of its ambition and style is a mess of a film from George Clooney.
Alone in a hotel room and feeling paranoid, Chuck Barris starts to write about his life as a kid (Michael Cera) before becoming an adult where he took on various odd jobs to score chicks and briefly get married. Despite losing at bar brawls, Chuck’s break came when he worked as a watchdog for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand where he wrote the song Palisades Park for Freddy “Boom-Boom” Cannon as it scores a hit. While sleeping with a stagehand named Debbie (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Chuck meets Debbie’s roommate Penny (Drew Barrymore) as the two begin a relationship. While Chuck tries to pitch various TV shows for ABC, he is rejected until a bar fight catches the attention of CIA agent Jim Byrd (George Clooney) who takes Chuck in as an assassin.
After learning that The Dating Game gets the green light from ABC, Chuck’s show is a major hit as he and Penny live a great life until Chuck is asked to go on a mission with another assassin named Patricia Watson (Julia Roberts). He and Patricia have an affair while he is still having a relationship with Penny as another of his shows in The Newlywed Game becomes a hit. With his work as TV producer going well while doing assassin jobs on the side, Chuck scores his biggest hit in the mid-1970s with The Gong Show that he hosts. Despite being a big star, he is criticized for the decline of quality television while he meets another agent named Keeler (Rutger Hauer) who believes there’s a mole in the CIA.
Things for Chuck become complicated as his relationship with Penny suffers while he becomes paranoid over who the mole is as he asks Byrd who reveals why he recruited him. Living in fear and paranoia, Chuck tries to finish his book and find out who the mole is.
While it’s a bio-pic that is largely stylized with no clear indication whether it’s true or not. It is still an interesting story about the guy who hosted The Gong Show while he was supposedly a killer for the CIA. While Chuck Barris may be lying about these claims that he worked for the CIA, the idea itself does make it far more interesting while possibly indicating why he was so fucked up when he hosted The Gong Show.
Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay is probably the most straightforward and conventional script that he’s done as he does portray Barris as a well-meaning guy who is also a fuck-up. Kaufman does his best to balance the comedy, romance, drama, and suspense that is presented in the film but there isn’t enough to make all of those things to be very interesting or engaging. Particularly as Kaufman wasn’t able to do enough to make it more out there and play with the narrative due to what George Clooney wanted to do as the film’s director.
Clooney’s direction is very engaging and stylish for the way he creates amazing compositions where the humor is very off-the-wall while he also creates some entrancing moments in some of the dark, suspenseful moments. The problem is that Clooney doesn’t allow Kaufman’s script to be much more out there as he tries to integrate too many ideas where it includes scenes where real-life people who knew Barris would commentate. Some of those people interviewed had something to say while some of it felt a bit distracting. Despite some amazing moments in creating great scenes of humor and suspense, Clooney ends making a very messy film that doesn’t do enough to make it more interesting than its premise suggests.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel does a good job with the cinematography for much of its third act as he creates some very entrancing shots including Chuck and Byrd’s meeting about the mole. It’s the work in the film’s first half that feels overly-stylized in its look with flashy flares of lighting and tinted shots that goes a little overboard including in the flashback scenes that doesn’t work. Editor Stephen Mirrone does an excellent job with the editing to maintain a leisured pace for the film while creating some stylized montages for some of Chuck and Patricia’s assassinations with Chuck’s own work as a TV producer.
Production designer James D. Bissel does a fantastic job with the set pieces created to play up the differing period of the times from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Notably the recreation of the game shows that Chuck Barris has produced including The Gong Show as it adds to the air of nostalgia presented in the film. Costume designer Renee April does a wonderful job with the costumes to play up the different periods that the women wear throughout the film . Visual effects supervisor Louis Morin does an excellent job in creating some of the visual effects for some of the look of the old TV footage to some of the entrancing pool meeting scene between Barris and Byrd.
Sound editors Aaron Glascock and Curt Schulkey do nice work on the sound design to create the air of violence that occurs in the film including some of the voiceover work that Barris does in the narration throughout the film. Music composer Alex Wurman creates a score that is quite playful to the humor with elements of jazz while creating a low-key piano score for some of the film’s darker moments.
The casting by Ellen Chenoweth is superb for the ensemble that is created which includes cameo appearances from Dick Clark, Jaye P. Morgan, Gene Patton aka Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, Jim Lange, and the real Chuck Barris plus two funny cameos from Clooney‘s close friends and co-stars from Ocean’s movies. Other small roles include producer Jerry Weintraub as an ABC executive, Richard Kind as a casting executive, Kristen Wilson as Chuck’s secretary Loretta, softcore film star Krista Allen as a woman Chuck meets at the Playboy mansion, Robert John Burke as a FCC investigator, Michael Cera as the young Chuck Barris, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as an American Bandstand stagehand Chuck sleeps with.
Rutger Hauer is excellent as CIA agent Keller who likes Chuck while revealing to him about the mole that is present in the CIA. George Clooney is terrific as the mysterious Jim Byrd who guides Chuck into the world of CIA while revealing why he recruited him. Julia Roberts is good as the femme fatale Patricia Watson who woos Chuck although Roberts is sort of miscast since she isn’t really the kind of person who can exude sex appeal. Drew Barrymore is wonderful as Chuck’s girlfriend Penny who tries to deal with Chuck’s success and the lifestyle that he’s living. Finally there’s Sam Rockwell in an amazing performance as Chuck Barris as Rockwell is the film’s big highlight. Rockwell gives a performance for the ages as he makes Barris into a very complex yet charismatic character who is a mess as Rockwell also exudes the paranoia and flaws of the man as it’s definitely Rockwell at his best.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a good though very messy film from George Clooney and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman that includes a masterful performance from Sam Rockwell. While it’s a film that has a very interesting premise about the life of Chuck Barris. It’s a film where it tries too hard to be over-the-top and play to exaggerations while it tries to be so many things. Particularly as it’s among one of the weakest projects written by Charlie Kaufman as well as the weakest film that George Clooney has directed so far. In the end, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is an interesting but uneven film from George Clooney that does include a magnificent performance from Sam Rockwell.
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