I hate it when someone wastes a good idea. Clooney has proven himself a capable director, but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind isn’t far off from being 3000 Miles to Graceland with game show hosts.
Based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind follows the life of television producer, Gong Show host, Chuck Barris. But, according to Barris, his work on television was only his public life. In private, he is actually a highly trained CIA assassin, using game shows and television productions as a cover for his grisly real work. Whether or not any of this is true is open to speculation, but the concept is wickedly odd, perfect adaptation fodder for the likes of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.
Kaufman is carving a writing career out of the beautifully bizarre as the mind behind poignantly insane films like Being John Malcovich and most recently Adaptation. With a crazy concept like this my expectations were high, looking for yet another truly unique Kaufman experience. But despite some fairly interesting and promising work from first time director George Clooney, and a fine performance by underrated oddball Sam Rockwell as Barris, Confessions turns in an uneven and tediously paced look at what should have been a shining example of madcap creativity.
It takes decades to finally get around to success and the film lags in the opening, trying desperately to get inside Barris’ head as we look at the sexual failures that had a hand in carving him into the adult he is today. After that things just happen, breezing through the more interesting bits about Barris television productions and his missions as a spy and instead languishing about with him, as he stands naked in front of a fuzzy TV set.
Throughout, director George Clooney does a fine job of marking the film with a distinctive visual style, alternating from washed out pinks and blues to more vibrant modern day colors, as fits each moment in the story. He shows real promise in the way he captures Rockwell’s sometimes disturbing and hilarious facial expressions and in the way he uses his camera to accent shadows in his character’s eyes. But the film is far to often slow and filled with to many distracting cameos to remain vibrant throughout it’s nearly 2 hour run.
Part of the problem is that Barris himself just isn’t all that interesting. He’s exactly what you’d expect from a sleazy Hollywood producer. Unfaithful, obsessed with sex, cold, over-emotional, and drunk with limited success. Kaufman does a good job of helping us understand WHY he’s that way. Yet, understanding him so well takes away a lot of what could have made a screwball character like this so interesting.
3000 Miles to Graceland was a wicked idea about murderous Elvis’s played by old washed up actors that went for obvious and worn out gangster cliché’s instead of focusing on the weirdness the concept brings to mind. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind throws a game show host into a similarly grizzly, corpse filled world, but abandons what makes it interesting by boiling it all down into something tedious and all too familiar. Yeah, Barris doesn’t end up dead on the crapper, but that’s only because the people involved here actually still have talent, unlike washed-up Kevin Costner. Confessions is occasionally inspired, but just isn’t as weird as it ought to be.