TV producer/host Chuck Barris leads a double life. When not creating the cult anti-talent search series The Gong Show or The Dating Game (the inspiration for Blind Date in the UK), he's a globe-trotting CIA assassin. But falling ratings and murderous trea
While shooting his directorial debut, Orson Welles said it was like playing with the world's biggest train set. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind may not be in the Citizen Kane class, but George Clooney's first foray behind the camera does boast similarly bravura technique and an infectious sense of joy in the filmmaking process.
Like his regular collaborators, Soderbergh and the Coens, Clooney gleefully draws upon every cinematic trick in the book to make every frame count. This wizardry isn't a case of auteur-poseur, however. The film's eclectic style is ideally suited to its schizophrenic content, as hero Chuck Barris reflects on his dual life as game show czar and CIA assassin. It's the kind of bizarre tale you'd expect from Charlie Kaufman, but this isn't an Adaptation-style adaptation: the screenplay is actually pretty faithful to the autobiography in which Barris first made his outlandish claims.
The movie triumphs by giving equal dramatic weight to the ratings war and the Cold War – the network and the wet work. Sam Rockwell is compelling as Barris ("A nice guy, even though he's a prick"), but sometimes seems dazzled by the sheer star wattage assembled around him. As the CIA handler, Clooney plays it as straight as is possible when sporting a quiff and beautifully groomed moustache, while Barrymore is hugely endearing as the sexually adventurous, emotionally vulnerable woman who shares Chuck's life but not his secrets.
Even Rutger Hauer shines, escaping straight-to-video hell to remind the world just how good he was in Blade Runner. Best of all, however, is Julia Roberts, a revelation as cynical, glamorous, decadent femme fatale Patricia – her idea of flirting is to inform Barris, "You're not like the other murderers." Under normal circumstances, you might say she steals the movie, but there's no doubt that the plaudits here belong to the director.
Hilarious and thrilling, playfully sexy and emotionally involving, this is sophisticated entertainment.