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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Rating: R
Release Date: September 16, 2003
Approximate running time: 114 minutes
Ten-second Rundown: Game-show creator/host Chuck Barris either drags down American culture or kills in the service of the CIA - you decide.


  • Commentary from Director George Clooney and Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel
  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
  • Behind The Scenes Vignettes
  • Sam Rockwell Screen Tests
  • Gong Show Acts
  • The Real Chuck Barris Documentary
  • Still Gallery
  • Tech Specs: Widescreen anamorphic (2.40:1 ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, French Language Track

    In watching the behind-the-scenes extras of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, one point gets pounded over and over: George Clooney is a really nice guy. Of course, that's not enough to warrant watching a movie, unless the two of you are friends and he invited you over to his house to watch it. The rest of us aren't in that boat. However, Clooney also happens to be a surprisingly capable filmmaker, and his debut feature, while occasionally unsteady, is an effort that melds artistic concerns with intriguing storytelling.

    The pretty-boy actor has long been marked by integrity. When Charlie Kaufman's script, based on Chuck Barris' "Unauthorized Autobiography," had been floundering in turnaround, Clooney agreed to take a minor role in order to give it some studio cachet. For a while Bryan Singer had intended to direct it. When that fell through, Clooney realized that if he didn't make it, no one would. And so he used his friendships in the industry to bring together some high-powered people for a low cost.

    If you have any familiarity with Kaufman's work, you'd understand why the studio needed those conditions. The writer tends to play with reality, as does Barris' book. In it, the man who created The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and perhaps most infamously The Gong Show also claimed to have killed 32 people as a hitman for the CIA - in between television productions. Probably a lie, though it sure feeds a lot of fun conspiracy theories, the story seems a perfect fit for Kaufman's sensibilities. But few directors get it.

    Clooney does, giving everything a theatrical stylization that still has moments of emotional honesty. If nothing in Barris' world is all that real (and some of the creepier Gong Show contestants bear that out), who's to say that his power fantasies are fantasies at all?

    In a telling scene, Barris (Sam Rockwell) finds himself on a soundstage with sliding backdrops. Each one reflects a different key moment in his life, but we don't know if those moments really are memories or confabulations. The point may be that Barris doesn't know, either.

    The film doesn't seem to want to make up its mind, either. All that's clear is that Barris doesn't like himself very much. In a bit borrowed from Mike Nichols, the camera agrees with Barris, trying to take its focus off of him whenever it can. Very often Barris is shot off to the side of the picture, or is an off-screen catalyst for other characters' reactions.

    To achieve part of his intent, Clooney made sure that the "tricks" on film were all done live. Since his days on er, Clooney has had a particular fascination for pushing actors back to their most basic theatrical roots. Here, he shoots several scenes in long individual takes, even those that actually shift in time. Actors rush around behind the camera, staying quiet but hurriedly changing costumes. The result isn't theatrical, but there's a rough immediate edge to a lot of it that fades and edits in this digital age just can't replace.

    Though it looks slick, and is loaded with "star" talent (Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore play the women in Barris' life; Clooney pals Brad Pitt and Matt Damon pop up), this film is quirky and filled with personality. For a project this big, that's an achievement in itself. But that it's also established a filmmaker with a voice of his own, that's all too rare.

    The extras provide all this behind-the-scenes information, and more. Because it ended up such a personal project for everyone involved, even the filler stuff pops with passion and fun. Compare Rockwell's screen test to the final scenes in the movie; heck, you can even see the growth in Clooney.

    There's also a documentary on Chuck Barris, and though it's interesting, it seems almost beside the point. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is enough to let us ponder the real story. Why obfuscate the issue with facts?

    In other words, I figured this movie would be good. I just didn't know how good.

    Derek McCaw


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