Monday 3 February 2020

Movie Review: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002)

A biography contaminated by an attention-seeking juvenile imagination, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind undermines itself with frivolous distractions.

It's the early 1980s and Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) is despondent and holed-up in a New York hotel room, refusing to open the door for long-term girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore). He starts writing his memoirs, chronicling his often futile pursuit of women. By the late 1950s television is a burgeoning industry and Chuck conceives of The Dating Game, although the networks initially reject the idea. He finds domestic bliss with Penny but refuses to consider marriage.

Chuck's memoirs also contain a fictional narrative about his life as a CIA-trained Cold War assassin. Recruited by the mysterious Byrd (George Clooney), Barris is assigned targets in various European cities, and meets fellow agents Patricia (Julia Roberts) and Keeler (Rutger Hauer). When The Dating Game finally takes off, Chuck uses his chaperon cover to complete his CIA missions. An assignment goes wrong in West Berlin, but Chuck finds huge success with a string of tacky television shows.

Chuck Barris left an imprint on the world of cheap television catering to the lowest common denominator and helping create a foundation for the later abominations of reality TV. Despite a seemingly boorish and self-absorbed personality he may provide the basis for an interesting story, but it's not on display in Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind.

First-time director George Clooney adapts Barris' autobiographical book but keeps all the hokum about a double-life as a secret agent. Big chunks of the film are therefore preoccupied with an alternative fictional reality, but unlike compelling dramas like A Beautiful Mind, Barris' fantasies dangle as unaddressed vestiges of a troubled psyche, cratering his real story. Meanwhile, his actual life is dealt with in a perfunctory manner, Clooney and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman unable to colour in the man behind the garish shows.

Clooney overcompensates with an infusion of style, the assassination scenes underlining fictionality with a combination of absurd humour and film noir shadings. Meanwhile Sam Rockwell throws himself into the role, fractured and frenzied as it is, in a performance that cries out for more narrative depth and less superficial glitz. Julia Roberts and Rutger Hauer add star power but are wasted in stock secret agent characterizations.

Barris may have had a mind dangerous to himself and to unsuspecting cultural victims of his television shows, but his so-called confessions are best forgotten.

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