Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

confessions of a dangerous_mind IMDb

This film is such a strange one, it’s really hard to believe it is apparently based on a true story. This is the (supposedly true) story of Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell), he is a television producer/game show host who is recruited by the CIA to be an assassin. It sounds completely unbelievable, except for the fact that Barris made these claims in his own autobiography. The CIA has obviously criticised Barris and disputed his claims, but that is beside the point. This film assumes Barris’s biography was true, and puts it all on screen. Barris created the television shows The Dating Game and The Gong Show, and this film chronicles the creation of those shows, as well as his extracurricular activities as an assassin for the CIA.

The best part about this film is Sam Rockwell. He is a fantastic actor, and really excels here as the TV producer turned assassin. I enjoy Rockwell’s acting a lot, one of my favourite movies of the past few years is The Way Way Back, and it is mostly because of Rockwell’s performance. The rest of the cast is ok. Drew Barrymore tries hard as Rockwell’s on/off girlfriend and Julia Roberts is good as one of Chuck’s assassin colleagues.

This was directed by George Clooney, who also turns up as the man recruiting Barris to the CIA. Clooney has talent as a director now, he has improved a lot since this movie. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was the first film Clooney directed, and I feel like he was still finding his feet as a director. It’s also noticeable that Clooney has rustled up all of his Hollywood buddies to appear in this film. There are short cameos from his Ocean’s 11 co-stars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as some of Barris’s game show contestants, as well as a larger role for Julia Roberts. This is not a criticism of the film, just that it’s obviously stunt casting and detracts from the film somewhat when a huge star like Brad Pitt turns up onscreen for a few seconds and then disappears.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is worth seeing for the performance of Sam Rockwell and Clooney’s directing potential. Other than that, I really struggled with this film. I went in with the idea that this is a true story taken from Chuck Barris’s biography, but found that I had a real problem with how Chuck is recruited to the CIA. It is not explained at all why they want him until the very end, and that explanation left me unfulfilled. During the film, I spent most of it questioning why would the CIA want this guy. He is a celebrity, known by millions. I’m not sure he’d be my first choice as a covert assassin.

Rating: C-

This movie is a bit odd. It’s based on the life of TV host and producer Chuck Barris, most famous for creating The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, and for creating and hosting The Gong Show. So how exactly is this supposed to be compelling to watch? Well, apparently Barris was also an assassin for the CIA during this time. It seems unbelievable… because it might not be true at all.

While Barris claims he did in fact work for the CIA, the agency itself denies that he ever worked for him. I wouldn’t put it past the CIA to lie about this, but based on this movie the whole story seems unlikely. The Barris character doesn’t seem like a would-be killer at all, his recruitment is never adequately explained, and his whole attitude towards murdering 33 people is mostly blasé. I just don’t buy it, and I’m not the only one.

So it seems a bit odd that Barris’ alleged secret life is presented as being 100% true in this film. I got little sense of the movie trying to hedge its bets or make some grand statement about what is truth and what isn’t. Which is especially odd because I’d expect that sort of storytelling from George Clooney. Yes, he only directed (and co-stars in) this, but he would have had some control over the script even as a first time director. But maybe that’s what kept him from questioning the story; it’s easy to take risks once you’ve had some successes under your belt.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind does have some interesting aspects outside of the main CIA plot line. For one, Barris is credited for lowering television standards through his TV creations, most notably The Gong Show. His game shows appealed to the lowest common denominator, they pushed the limits of what could and couldn’t be shown on television, and were often considered to be in poor taste. But they were also phenomenally popular with audiences. Clooney is clearly making a statement about today’s reality TV culture, and it’s both compelling and relevant.

Maybe that’s the overall statement of this movie– just give the audience what it wants, standards and truth be damned. You’re not going to please everyone, but you can probably please most of them.

Rating: C

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