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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 03/21/03 11:07:51

"Damn, I hate George Clooney."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Seriously, think about it fellas, how can you not hate Clooney. For one things the fucker is almost dangerously good looking. Good looking enough to make most women faint and a lot of guys to go "Well, if I had to go gay, I suppose Clooney would do...". He's also a damn good actor. From the loose-tounged charmer of 'Out of Sight' and 'Ocean's 11' to the cynical tough guy of 'Three Kings' to the emotional wreck of 'Solaris', he's much more then just a pretty face. He's also damn charming in real life. And now with 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' he's directed one of the brightest, stylish debuts in a long time. And he takes a great supporting role with equal menace and wit. Like I said, it's easy to hate the fucker.

No just kidding George, I love you really. But I'm not kidding about what I said about 'Confessions...'. The autobiography about 60's TV presenter Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) who never really amounted to much apart from a few ultra-trashy shows like no-talent contest 'The Gong Show' and 'The Dating Game'.

Oh, and he also worked as a free-lance CIA hitman. That is, if Barris is to be believed. His claims have been met with stony refusal by the CIA. But then they would, wouldn't they?

Clooney's film takes no side with either argument, portraying Barris as a certainly strange, possibly delusional, individual but also presenting his undercover operations in a straight-faced manner.

Barris is struggling to make a career in TV and supporting his long-suffering girlfriend, Penny (Drew Barrymore), when he's approached by CIA man, Jim Byrd (Clooney). After initial dis-belief, Barris is convinced that he fits the profile the CIA look out for and is soon trained to kill and sent out on hits, using 'The Dating Show' as his cover. This brings him into contact with other operatives such as Kessler (Rutger Hauer) and Patricia (Julia Roberts).

It's a strange tale, skipping schizophrenically between the relative normality of TV production and the dark seemy world of assaination. One thing is made crystal clear though: Clooney has been doing his homework. It probably helps that one of his most fruitful relationships is with Steven Soderbergh, but Clooney reveals a keen eye for the camera that a hundred veteran hacks juts don't seem to have.

He cleverly balances Chuck's normal life, dousing it in the colourful glare of gaudy TV sets, with the film-noir style that seeps into his CIA missions. Every shot, every set-up has something going on. Whether it be Barris in telephone conversation with a TV executive, the office in the background, Rockwell in the foreground and Barrymore dancing between the two or a conversation between Rockwell and Byrd in shadow apart from their fogged up breath, Clooney seems to be on a constant need to kick the audience in the head with style.

There's an argument that 'Confessions...' is all style and no substance, and there's some weight behind it. Sometimes you wish Clooney would stop dancing with the camera to just relax and film a damn scene. However, with 'Confessions' being the kind of story it is, it's hard to argue that the style doesn't fit in the content. It never attempts to make our minds up about Barris and instead highlights the two extremes that he took his life.
The film plays out like Barris' mind probably plays out, constantly on the turn and constantly exploding its content.

Besides, it's so refreshing to see a first-time director try so many stylistics and pull them off. Some of the scene composition is worth the admission alone. A swimming pool scene, a mission briefing on a tv set, Barris's initial inspiration for 'The Gong Show'...these are moments film students will be slavering over for years. There's many more stand out episodes (the annoying contestants he's stuck with in Germany) but to list them all, would be to spoil them all.

And when you've got a script by the lunatic-genius Charlie Kaufman, what other choice do you have then to keep up with his ideas in terms of style? Barris CIA missions, fanciful or not, simply wouldn't work in any other way than Clooney films them. Just the right side of parody, they fit in perfectly.

Clooney also surrounds himself with a cast that are equally stylish. Barrymore manages to tone down her annoying streak and bring out her sweet aspect, and Clooney's deadpan Agent is both wryly funny and deadly serious. Hauer sparkles in his cameo, while Roberts is surprisingly convincing as the femme fatale.

But Rockwell well and truly rams any doubts about his leading man abilities down the doubters throats. While never making Barris particularly likeable, he certainly grabs the audiences attention and never lets go. Like the film, he's confident and strikes the perfect balance between geek, simmering menace, alluring personality and winning humour. It's the star turn, in a film full of stars, and thankfully doesn't fall into easy cliche or easily-won sympathy.

So is Clooney destined to be the next great thing in directing? Perhaps. For all it's audacity, there's some flaws in 'Confessions'. Although it nimbly navigates the twists between comedy, drama and a crumbling personality, towards the end it doesn't seem sure where it's heading and starts to lose our patience. A biography can always be tricky in terms of pace, relying as it does on facts, and 'Confessions' just isn't clever enough to avoid that pitfall, falling into sluggish interludes occasionally.

And although she's fine in her role, Roberts threatens to over-egg the 'star' quota of the film (as does the admittedly funny cameo by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon). Yes George, we know you have a lot of celebrity friends, but they don't all need to call in at once. 'Ocean's 11' this isn't.

So, not a debut to rival 'Citizen Kane' but certainly a cut above other notable debuts such as 'Duel' and perhaps more in the vein of his friend Soderbergh's 'sex,lies and videotape'. It's debatable as to whether Clooney will really develop as a director, and find his own style and voice as opposed to the comings and goings in 'Confessions'. But that's a debate for later in his career. Because along with a marvellous Rockwell, he's crafted one of the most dynamic and exciting pieces of cinema for a long time. Constantly inventive (the number of visual and story delights is literally ten-fold) and always inventive, 'Confessions' sparkles as a beacon of quality. Jesus George, why do you make me hate you so much?

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