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"Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" Review


Title: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Fred Savage

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Directed by: George Clooney

Rating: R for language, sexual content and violence.

Review by Stephen Silver

Years in the making yet incredibly unlikely nonetheless, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is an hilariously absurd near-masterpiece from the pen of Hollywood "It Boy" Charlie Kaufman, in his best script since "Being John Malkovich."

Based on the bogus 1981 autobiography of "Gong Show" creator and host Chuck Barris (played here by Sam Rockwell), 'Confessions' infuses moments from Barris' game show career and love life with his "secret life" as a CIA assassin. 'Confessions' was selected in multiple polls throughout the 1990s as the best unproduced script in Hollywood. Kaufman's success as the writer of 'Malkovich' helped finally get 'Confessions' made after multiple non-starts.

Charlie Kaufman specializes, among other specialties, in writing stories about real-life fringe celebrities that are skewed considerably from the truth. Barris' CIA career occupies the same plane of reality, apparently, as the portal into John Malkovich's brain, and Kaufman's twin brother Donald. His script for 'Confessions' is his fullest yet; it doesn't lose steam at the end like in his two otherwise superlative Spike Jonze collaborations.

Kaufman is probably the most auteuristic screenwriter working in Hollywood today, so Clooney was apparently third banana creatively behind Kaufman and Barris. Clooney's directorial technique, while skillful, seems built almost entirely on homages and/or direct rip-offs from his favorite filmmakers, who appear to be his friend Steven Soderbergh (who executive-produced), the Coen Brothers (who directed him in "O Brother Where Art Thou"), Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch. There's even a key sequence that's modeled nearly shot for shot on a scene from "The Princess Bride."

Still, the game show sequences are wonderfully and realistically re-created, including a couple of great cameos. As for the other side of the plot, the best I can say is that the CIA scenes in 'Confessions' are absolutely no less believable than the CIA scenes in "A Beautiful Mind."

The casting is right just about all the way across the board. It would have been a mistake to cast a big star in the role of Barris; much like this year's other great comedic performance (Steve Coogan in "24 Hour Party People") Rockwell completely makes the character his own, and makes him hilarious. We know that Johnny Depp and Mike Myers were considered for the role, but it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Barris. Clooney is on auto-pilot as an actor, but in terms of the actresses he made a wise decision in casting likable Drew Barrymore as the "good" girl and the increasingly unlikable Julia Roberts as the villainess. Rockwell and Barrymore especially displayed excellent chemistry; they previously worked together in "Charlie's Angels."

While "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" shouldn't be mistaken for the type of biopic that's meant to celebrate its protagonist as some type of visionary hero, it's impossible not to notice how many of the fads of this very moment can be traced straight back to Chuck Barris. Would "American Idol" have ever been possible without "The Gong Show"? And similarly, "The Dating Game" begat "The Newlywed Game" begat "Singled Out" begat "Studs" begat "Joe Millionaire."

Two of the best moments in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" are the footage from the pilot versions of "The Dating Game" and "Newlywed Game," which show us just how far ahead of his time Barris was; imagine what he might have come up with had he surfaced in television 20 years later than he did.

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