U.S. Release Date: December 31, 2002
Distributor: Miramax
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Producer: Andrew Lazar, Steven Soderbergh (executive)
Composer: Alex Wurman
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Matt Damon (Cameo), Brad Pitt (Cameo), Michael Cera
Running Time: 1 hour and 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (language, sexual content and violence)

Delusions of an Unlived Life
by C.A. Wolski

If game show creator-host Chuck Barris is to be believed, while he was foisting atrocities like The Dating Game and The Gong Show on the American public, he was also working as a CIA assassin—killing more than 30 people over a 20 year period. That's if you really want to believe him, because for all its seeming earnestness Confessions of a Dangerous Mind plays like one big shaggy dog story with no real punch line, but a terrific set up.

Director George Clooney's freshman outing is an engaging, witty, breezy tale that is part comedy, part drama with a surreal twist that makes it, if not a very good movie, then at least a memorable, if not shallow, one. Barris is portrayed as a good-natured loser whose gift for creating schlocky game shows like The Newlywed Game is only matched by his libido and his prowess as a killer. Sam Rockwell's portrayal of Barris is phenomenal particularly in the latter part of the movie, but strangely one-dimensional. There is no depth to Barris. There is no force motivating him other than sex, and that doesn't explain his quick agreement to become a contract killer for the American government. What is hinted at is that Barris' "work" for the government was part of an inner fantasy life that was much more fulfilling and meaningful than his life as a horn dog TV producer, and this is why the whole thing is probably a put-on.

Based on Barris' "unauthorized" autobiography, the script by Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation) misses a great opportunity to really mine this area—what does it mean to be successful in America and how does one measure one's importance—instead he swallows Barris' claims whole and creates a fabric that is at once surreal and oddly realistic. If Barris' life as a spy was a fantasy, he missed a great career as a novelist. If it is indeed real, then he is one of the thousands of cold warriors who should get his due.

The spy material is terrific primarily because of its tone. Rockwell's Barris is, in some ways, a better spy than James Bond ever could be. He uses his license to kill with impunity and gets the girl (Julia Roberts in a delicious role). Director Clooney makes an extended appearance as Barris' contact Jim Byrd. But the real stand out among the supporting players is Drew Barrymore as Barris' long- suffering girlfriend Penny. Barrymore is at once wise and innocent, and she's really grown into her girl-next-door looks, which she puts to good use here. Rutger Hauer as the German spy Keeler has the two best scenes. The first involves the culmination of a stakeout in East Berlin, the other a quiet scene with Rockwell in which he discusses what it means to be a spy.

Clooney's direction is assured and fluid. The pacing is good. The soundtrack is excellent, and he keeps the film interesting by collapsing time and space. The only structural misstep is including a series of interviews throughout the movie with Dick Clark and several Gong Show regulars, which are sort of pointless.

In the end, the picture's gotcha structure is its biggest flaw. It's not that I don't mind being had, but at least if the movie wasn't so blatant about it, then it could be forgiven.

I do hope Clooney continues directing as he has a real gift for it, but I hope he picks better fare than Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, because like many of his acting roles, he is much better than his material. He elevates it here, but that's not enough to make it anything more than a colorful yet superficial tall tale.

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