film review: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind ***

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a movie that relies entirely on interpretation. Adapted from a novel by the same name, Confessions is the life story of ’70s game show host and alleged CIA assassin Chuck Barris. Skeptic viewers will scoff at Barris’ off-the- wall tales about his double life, while conspiracy theorists will be delighted by the beauty of it. As producer of “The Dating Game,” Barris accompanied the show’s winners on their European vacations as a chaperone. His book claims that he also snuck out at night to kill bad guys and steal microfilms.

Aside from the interpretation of the story, the audience will have to interpret the style of the film as well. Confessions marks the directorial debut of George Clooney and the first adapted screenplay from Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation was an original screenplay, despite Columbia Pictures’ ridiculous decision to submit it to award shows as adapted). Confessions is also Sam Rockwell’s first shot at a starring role, and he doesn’t disappoint as Barris.

For a first timer, Clooney does a great job from a technical standpoint. The colors of the film are deep and rich, and his choice of camera angles and music are near perfect. Some might find his style to be a bit flashy and overdone, and it does get a bit old by the end of the movie, but for a first time director, he deserves high marks.

Kaufman, technically known within the film industry as the whacko behind Being John Malkovich, presents his most normal screenplay to date. That doesn’t say much however, because Kaufman at his most ordinary is still more original than almost any other screenwriter. Confessions from a plot standpoint is already very creative, so the choice of Kaufman to adapt it seems a little strange, since he’s usually the one that brings the creativity with him. His script is respectable, but nowhere near the genius of Malkovich or Adaptation.

The best part of the film is Rockwell. If 2002 hadn’t been such a great year for lead actors, he would almost certainly have been a Best Actor contender. His past films include the light-hearted Charlie’s Angels and Galaxy Quest, so his turn as the multilayered Barris is surprising. He handles the character with ease, however, perfectly hitting every smile, twitch and glare. And then there’s the subject of the way overdone butt shot. If Confessions had come out a year later, Clooney’s tendency to show Rockwell’s backside in many a scene would have seemed like an in-joke, given Clooney’s own problems with his similar scene in Solaris.
Confessions is a roller coaster ride of a movie. It’d be nice to say it hits all the dramatic points as well as the comedic ones, but on more than one occasion, they fall short. There are a few laughs, in particular a scene in which an unknowing contestant on “The Dating Game” passes up a date with Brad Pitt and Matt Damon for a pudgy plaid-wearing dork.

Aside from the cameos from Pitt and Damon come supporting performances from Clooney, Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts, as well as some documentary-style clips from Barris collaborators Dick Clark and Gene Gene the Dancing Machine. Clooney is good as Barris’ CIA connection, and Barrymore is sweet as his kooky love interest, although Roberts, of course, is as annoying as ever in her paper-thin role as a fellow government agent.

All things considered, Confessions is a huge success for Clooney and Rockwell, another plus on the records of Kaufman and Barrymore and another massive movie-ruining failure from Roberts. Someone tell her that she can’t be a cutesy love interest one week and a gritty CIA agent the next. See Confessions for interesting insight into the mind of Barris, an excellent performance from Rockwell and an impressive debut from Clooney.

Shawn Wines can be reached at

January 31, 2003


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