The story of Chuck Barris, famous Game Show producer and The Gong Show host, would be worthy of a movie if it was set purely in the showbiz environment. Some of the ways in which Barris devises his ideas and comes up with his shows may be slightly indulged however it doesn’t compare to the unique selling point of the movie.
Chuck Barris, in his memoir that shares the same name as the title of the movie, claimed to be a CIA hitman. This movie tells that story and for the most part, it tells it very well. George Clooney directs and manages to balance the two very contrasting stories excellently, at least at the beginning.
It would have been very easy to play this movie as a spoof. Chuck Barris seemed to be a larger-than-life character anyway so playing this movie as a straight-comedy would have been easy but would have undersold the tale. Luckily, both are played straight, with Chuck Barris’ memoir presented as if it is fact.
This is helped by the central performance of Sam Rockwell. Rockwell still feels like he is on the fringes of a big break, not quite having the one role that will catapult him into the “headliner” spot but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind feels like it should have been that role. He excels as the suave, charming and sometimes slimy producer but also convinces as the assassin, trained by an equally brilliant George Clooney.
In fact, the movie seems to come alive when Rockwell is being the trained assassin. There are some genuinely tense, well-staged action sequences and some good, traditional spy movie tropes which work so well in a movie with an undercurrent of falsehood.
This is one of the biggest problems with the movie: is it based on a memoir. As the movie progresses towards it’s slightly bizarre but still very thrilling conclusion, you feel like there could have been something much better here if Clooney had been able to let loose with the story. The “truth” often restricts what he is doing and it becomes that the assassin scenes are better than when Rockwell’s Barris is back in-front of the camera.
Clooney sticks close to the memoir though and even adds some credible talking-head interviews to support the movie’s plot. This balancing act between truth and lie is managed very well. It also means that the audience is left to draw their own conclusions, being able to devise whether they think Barris’ story is the truth or not.
Overall, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is an intriguing, well-directed and intriguing story. It balances the two very different sides of the producer’s “life” very well, with Rockwell doing a great job of being both producer and assassin. It just feels a shame that this movie couldn’t have just been about being an assassin, as this is definitely the more interesting aspect of the producer’s “true story.”
Rating – 4
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