Sunday, February 02, 2003

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (IMDB) (Netflix)
George Clooney's first directorial gig, based on the real-and-almost-certainly-imagined life of Chuck Barris, a songwriter (Palisades Park), game show producer (Dating Game, Newlywed Game and the Gong Show) and contract killer for the CIA. Or so he said in his autobiography, claiming an impressive/absurd 31 successful assignments. Making this dubious story shootable is a job for the equally dangerous screenwriting mind of Charlie Kaufman, whose Adaptation is still in theaters, and follows up the inventive Being John Malvovich.

When most actors try their hand at directing for the first time, they're pretty conservative, thinking "let's just get it in the can on time so I can do this again later when my acting fee drops." Clooney, who doesn't take a lot of risks with his own performances, goes the other way, letting his crew make some aggressive stylistic choices, and allowing the cast, well led by Sam Rockwell, to be outrageous enough to sell the material--but believable throughout its broad tonal range. Drew Barrymore is sweet as Barris's victimized girlfriend without being a doormat, and Julia Roberts makes a respectable femme fatale. In the moment of watching, the film works better as a dark comedy than the reflections of man repulsed by his low-brow success, but in the ensuing hours, burrows into the psyche. Your reaction to Kaufman's other work should be an accurate predictor of whether you'll enjoy "Confessions."