Confessions of a Dangerous Mind  (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is George Clooney's directorial debut, a screen adaptation of Chuck Barris's "unauthorized autobiography". (I love that term. Sane or not, Barris has a great sense of humor.)

It was Barris's contention that he was a contract CIA assassin during the same period in which he was a TV game show impresario. For example, he was able to use his TV responsibilities, as chaperone of the Dating Game couple in Germany, to sneak out at night and blast away a few of America's enemies.

Clearly Barris was not playing with a full deck. The movie (and, I presume, the book) portrays his fragile mental state, but anyone who saw him hosting The Gong Show already knows that he was one strange dude. Barris acknowledges his own battle to maintain mental health and stability, but he doesn't seem to think the CIA assignments were delusional. Or he might be pulling our collective leg. With Barris, who knows?

Many people found Barris's claims incredible, but Clooney didn't really approach the project with any such judgment in mind. His approach was to  present us with a scenario that asks "if Barris did tell the truth about his life, what must it have been like?". The only sign that the "real world" exists - i.e. the world outside Barris's account - is an occasional intercut to someone in the present day. Dick Clark, Jim Lange, Barris himself, and others who worked with him comment on what Chuck was like. None of those comments serve to contradict Barris's claims.


Sam Rockwell shows his butt twice. Rockwell also does a full-frontal scene in the deleted footage on the DVD.

Maggie Gyllenhall, in a tiny role, provided the only female nudity - a fleeting nipple.

Most of the the commenters don't mention the CIA assignments at all, but occasionally someone says that it's possible. One person said, for example, "Barris would be out of his office for a couple of weeks, and no one knows where he went."

Was he just a regular nutcase, or could he really have been out performing assassinations? It is left open. Let's face it, a universally recognized guy with onerous job responsibilities who is crazy enough to disappear for a couple of weeks without telling anyone beforehand, or commenting on it afterwards, is crazy enough to be an assassin as well. I do wonder, however, if the CIA would recruit someone so obviously unstable.

The script by Charles Kaufman (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) captures Barris's own sense of manic-depression beautifully. One minute it's all light craziness and a genuine hoot, the next minute it's all murder and ominous music. Kaufman was the perfect choice to be the screenwriter, because Barris's mind seems to travel along the same circuitous path as Kaufman's own. The complete conceit of the film, contrasting Barris the happy game show host to Barris the somber assassin, is very similar to having Kaufman split in two diametrically opposed halves, Charles and Donald Kaufman, in Kaufman's own pseudo-autobiography, the screenplay for Adaptation.

Sam Rockwell does a remarkable job at creating Barris as he saw himself. Rockwell has long been a great talent, a comic performer of astonishing depth, but he is just recently becoming recognized for what he always has done well. He has toiled in obscurity because he is usually a secondary player and is a physically unprepossessing character actor who disappears completely into the roles he plays. I have to look him up every time he's in a movie. I think "geez, that guy is good", discover his name is Sam Rockwell, then forget him until the process repeats itself. The next time he appears, you will not recognize "that Chuck Barris guy", and neither will I. I'll probably be looking him up yet again.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • Feature commentary with Director George Clooney and Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel

  • Deleted Scenes with commentary

  • Six Behind the Scene Vignettes

  • Sam Rockwell Screen Test

  • "Gong Show" Acts

  • The Real Chuck Barris Documentary

  • Still Gallery

George Clooney did a very good job directing this movie. It is crazy in some spots, nostalgic in some scenes, wildly funny in others, cool as a cucumber in still others. We know Clooney had all that in him, but what really made the movie work was the fact that it is also sad, almost tragic in some respects. Within all those tone shifts, Clooney handled the atmosphere beautifully, and accentuated it with some surprisingly inventive camera work and background sound choices. It is a supremely weird movie, but what else could it be, since it is based on an "unauthorized autobiography" by its supremely weird subject?

Besides casting Rockwell, one other decision was sheer genius on Clooney's part. He realized that the saddest, maddest thing of all would be to show the story exactly as Barris wrote it, thus saying without words, "If this is true, how cool is that? If it isn't, how sad is that?"

Clooney learned well from his buddy, Steven Soderbergh. So well that I'm almost willing to forgive them both for Solaris.


The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, Entertainment Weekly (Gleiberman) B+.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. Voting results: IMDb voters score it near-classic 7.2/10, Yahoo voters appraise it at an excellent 4.3/5, and Metacritic users average 8/10
  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $29 million for production, but grossed only $15 million domestically.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we probably found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it is only a C+, although I really liked it a lot. It is really a terrific movie, but it's one of those for a narrow audience.

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