Confessions of a Dangerous Mind review by Mike Long

"But what I really want to do is direct." So goes the old joke in Hollywood, where many dream of helming their own film. Over the years, we've seen many actors get behind the camera and take the reins of a movie. The latest thespian to join in this endeavor is George Clooney, who has made his directorial debut with the controversial Chuck Barris bio-pic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The movie shows that Clooney may be a promising the future.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind tells the story of trash-TV legend Chuck Barris, played here by Sam Rockwell. As a young man, Barris dreams of working TV and gets a job as a page at NBC. This leads to a creative post, which then leads to nowhere (although, he did write a hit song). Things then begin to look up for Chuck, when he meets a fun young woman named Penny (Drew Barrymore), and then sells NBC on his idea for a game show called "The Dating Game". While he is ironing out some of the problems with the show, he is approached by Jim Byrd (George Clooney), who recruits Chuck to join the CIA. So, Barris trains to be an international assassin. When he returns home from training, he gets the go-ahead with "The Dating Game". So, from this point on in his life, Barris juggles TV fame with creations such as "The Newlywed Game" and "The Gong Show" (which he hosts), carrying out CIA operations, and attempting to keep his relationship with Penny alive. This stress causes the man who America sees as a madman into a full-fledged lunatic.

Typically, when an actor directs a film, there's a great deal of talk about how they will have a great rapport with the actors and make a real "actor's film". But, Clooney comes out swinging with his visual style, clearly intent on proving that he can make a "film". Having worked with such visual directors as Steven Soderbergh, Joel Schumacher, Robert Rodriguez, and the Coen Brothers, Clooney has certainly had the opportunity to pick up many visual tricks and he certainly unleashes many of them here, as the film is filled with elaborate one-take shots, dissolves, and montages. Also, there is a fantastic use of color, as each time period and each section of Barris' life has its own unique hue. Clooney certainly convinces us that he went into this film with a grand visual scheme, but the end result may be too much, as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind surpasses Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses as the most over-directed film of the year.

And while Clooney was paying so much attention to the look of the film and the symbolism that evolved on-screen, the story somehow slipped away -- although, it's unclear whether this should be blamed on Clooney or screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The point of the film is clear: this man that many of us grew up with claims to be a hitman who has killed over 30 people. Is this story true? The movie never tells us, and that's OK. The problem with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is that it doesn't tell us much else about Barris either. The movie takes us through his career and his life, but never lets us get close to him. We never learn what motivates him or what he thinks of what is going on. As Barris is an unsympathetic character to begin with, this makes it very difficult for the viewer to commit to the film. The one saving grace here are the actors. Sam Rockwell is amazing as Barris and surely deserved an Oscar nod for this convincing performance. Drew Barrymore's girlish moxy serves her well as the flight Penny, but she's good in the emotional scenes as well. Clooney, sporting a dour moustache, fits in well as the stoic Byrd. Even the usually annoying Julia Roberts is likable in her cameo as Patricia, a CIA operative. But, these great performances can only take Confessions of a Dangerous Mind so far, and while the film is interesting, it isn't very entertaining.

Now coming to the mean DVD is Confessions of a Dangerous Mind from Miramax Home Entertainment. The DVD contains an anamorphic transfer of the film, which has been letterboxed at 2.40:1. The image looks very good, displaying a picture which is very sharp and clear. The only grain which appears on-screen is deliberate. The colors look very good and there are only trace elements of artifacting or edge-enhancement. The framing appears to be accurate, as Clooney takes advantage of the widescreen image in many scenes. The primary audio track on the DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This track provides clear audio, with no hissing or distortion. The film has a nice sound design and this track is filled with good stereo and surround effects, many from crowd scenes, but there are some nice ambient effects as well.

The DVD contains several special features. We start with an audio commentary from director/star George Clooney and director of photography Tom Sigel. This is a good commentary as this duo delivers a scene-specific chat, in which they elaborate on the technical aspects of the film, while also imparting anecdotes about the locations and the actors. My only complaint is that Clooney doesn't sound like his usual jovial self here. That can't be said for the 23-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which is included here. (This section has been broken down into 7 sub-sections, but mercifully, there is a "Play All" selection.) Clooney humbly discusses the making of the film and gives further info on the casting process and how the more elaborate shots were done. These segments also examines Sam Rockwell's performance and Clooney's directing style. There are 11 deleted scenes on the DVD, which can be viewed with or without commentary by Clooney and Sigel. Most of these scenes are unnecessary, save for one involving Penny and the one with a cameo by Fred Savage. We get to see Sam Rockwell's screen-tests for 3 different scenes. The most disappointing extra is a 6-minute segment called, "The Real Chuck Barris", in which Barris comments on his life and the film. But, as with the movie, we really don't learn much about the man here. Rounding out the extras are a still gallery and 5 "Gong Show" acts from the movie.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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