BY DAN KING
Given the star-studded cast and amply interesting subject material behind Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, it’s little surprise that George Clooney’s directorial debut is a rousing success.
Based on the life of Chuck Barris, who hosted and produced the original trash TV hit “The Gong Show,” Confessions details Barris’ parallel lives as both a television schlockmeister and CIA mercenary.
Showing obvious skill behind the camera, Clooney artfully intersperses short childhood flashbacks with scenes from Barris’ adult life, weaving them together to reveal Barris’ psychological. This technique allows a much more nuanced and subtle rendering of the story than typically found in Hollywood fare. In one sequence, for example, Clooney counterposes a black-and-white flashback of Barris’ veiled mother with quick shots of a looming black-and-white picture of a veiled woman on his TV set. The colors of the picture mirror those used in the scenes of Barris’ childhood, making an interesting commentary about the ways in which the past imprints and manifests itself in the present and suggesting, by the distorted size of the picture, that the past is itself distorted in our “present” consciousness. It is a delicate moment which, in less skilled hands, might have given rise to a more simplistic explanation for the protagonists’ motivations. Clooney avoids that, though, hinting at causal connections while maintaining the agency of the character and his personal responsibility for his actions. When the enormous image of the veiled woman on the set is suddenly pulled away by stage hands, the story returns to its previous pace, as if to imply the primacy of Barris’ present. His childhood memories are simply movable overlays that do not in themselves explain the impulses which drive him.
Sam Rockwell (The Green Mile, Charlie’s Angels), playing the lead, and Drew Barrymore, as his love interest, are also pleasant surprises. Rockwell brings Barris to life, moving between the roles of loving boyfriend, cold killer, ladies’ man, fearful paranoic, and brilliant entertainer effortlessly. Rockwell resolves the inherent conflict of Barris’ character by delivering a performance that suggests that inconsistency, confusion and even evil are human. Instead of a clichéd interpretation of Barris as bad guy, Rockwell’s delivery implies that at the core of his misconduct, violent and erratic behavior is a search for identity. Though clearly aided by a great script and direction, Rockwell’s performance makes the inconsistencies in Barris’ character believable.
Barrymore, playing the main love interest in the film, gives what may be her best performance to date. Though playing the cute, free-spirited bohemian woman that she is in many of her films, she manages to give the character a depth that is lacking in her other pictures.
Confessions is also full of surprising and funny cameos from many leading actors (including particularly funny appearances from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) and the use of beloved MIA actors such as Rutger Hauer. Still, the greatness of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is not star power but an excellent script, great acting and superior direction.