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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (15)

Review: Jack Foley | Rating: 2

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with director George Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigal; Deleted scenes; Behind the scenes featurettes; Sam Rockwell screen tests; Gong Show acts; 'The Real Chuck Barris' featurette; Stills gallery.

CHUCK Barris has been dubiously credited with the ‘dumbing down’ of US TV, is responsible for creating programmes such as ‘The Dating Game’ and ‘The Gong Show’, and claims to have murdered 33 people for the CIA.

His life story forms the basis for George Clooney’s directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a brave and challenging movie, which clearly owes a lot to the style of filmmaking of his mentor, Steven Soderbergh (who serves as executive producer).

Sam Rockwell stars as the energetic Barris, an ambitious go-getter whose ability to create tacky TV favourites quickly makes him a leading player in the growing industry; a situation he exploits to the full with women, including his girlfriend, Penny (Drew Barrymore).

His life takes a turn for the surreal, however, when George Clooney’s shadowy CIA agent, Jim Byrd, recruits him for the organisation as an assassin, using his shows as the perfect cover to carry out company work.

Hence, Dating Game contestants find themselves shipped to ‘fabulous Helsinki’ and ‘romantic west Berlin’ for their ‘dream’ excursions, so that Barry can perform his covert missions, during which he meets the likes of Julia Roberts’ international operative, Patricia (with whom he starts an affair) and Rutger Hauer’s secret agent, Keeler.

But at a time when Cold War paranoia was at its height, Barry’s fragile mental state begins to deteriorate, as friends seem few and far between and the two worlds threaten to collide and crush him in the process.

The screenplay for Confessions has been in development hell for the past five years, having been picked up by the likes of David Fincher and Curtis Hanson before Clooney rescued it.

And while it may seem like a curious choice for a first-time out, the director has done a terrific job, turning in a deliriously enjoyable, tripped out journey through Barris’ edgy psychology, backed up by another of Charlie Kaufman’s wonderfully offbeat scripts.

The Soderbergh influence is never far behind, either, as the film carries much of the visual style of Clooney’s business partner, cutting to and from the present, and using lighting and cinematography to impressive effect.

The picture also maintains a terrific balance between the jovial humour of Barris’ early exploits and the mounting danger which permeates the movie’s darker second half.

This is very much a film buffs’ treat, containing many a nod to Clooney’s influences, as well as some sly cameos from previous acting partners; all of which serve to heighten the enjoyment.

Rockwell, too, shines as Barris, a hopelessly likeable entertainment junkie who exudes charisma whenever on screen. He may, ultimately, hate himself, but audiences will have fun finding out why.

As for the question of whether Barris really was an assassin, you never really find out; but then this isn’t a film that is interested in answering such questions. Rather, it is a fascinating, hip and ultra-enjoyable journey through celebrity excess, which marks an extremely promising directorial debut.

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