February 20, 2003

Dangerous Mind?

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It’s George Clooney’s directing debut, but his inexperience is negated by an obvious knack for the art and a natural inclination for creative filmmaking. His first film, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, is in few ways remarkable, but it’s unmistakably a well-made and engaging picture.

On the heels of his critically acclaimed Adaptation, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman skillfully manipulates another work for the screen. This time he brings to life the auto-biography of former television producer Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell), the man responsible for The Dating Game, The Gong Show, and a slew of similar dubious shows that were received with the same mix of glee and disgust that we draw from reality shows today. The movie opens on a bedraggled Barris, holed up in a rundown hotel where he pounds out his confessions.

We’re taken back to his early manhood — a time when his career and obsession with sex seem to be going nowhere. After several drunken brawls, he’s approached by an enigmatic and heavily mustached Jim Bryd (George Clooney), who offers him a job as an assassin for the CIA.

Barris’ claims are widely percieved as bogus, but Kaufman faithfully transposes the story of the “producer by day and hit man by night.” Just as he begins his work as an assassin, his legitimate career skyrockets, with the success of The Dating Game. The hits have the alternately disturbing and highly entertaining quality of Pulp Fiction, but the spy story is hardly developed. His secret life serves as a counterpoint to the emptiness he encounters during the day. Killing is a vacation for him. The film in some way accepts the absurdity of Barris’ claims, and the viewer gets the idea that his double life is really a fantasy of juxtaposed spy clich