The posters for 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' deceptively proclaim George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore as its leads with only a passing reference to actual leading man Sam Rockwell. While credit for the resulting movie goes to Clooney and Rockwell, none can deny that this is a flawed first attempt for the director and a wise move for Rockwell. With a script attributed to the current darling of the screenwriting world, the zany Charlie Kauffman (based upon author Chuck Barris' autobiography played in the film by Sam Rockwell), the final result is an ambitious yet muddled film.
Down on his luck Barris plays 60's game show host of the trashy 'the dating game' and something called the 'Gong show'. Unbeknownst to most though is his supposed shady association with the CIA, for whom he works as an undercover operative. His assignments take him to different locations in Europe (for some reason Europe has forever been linked with espionage in the movies!), a large number of which involves carrying out murders and assassinations.
He is trained to be a killer and his prime contact remains Jim Byrd, (George Clooney playing it as hilariously deadpan as can be). This work, in time, distances him from his love, the gullible but affectionate Penny (a passable Drew Barrymore). Part of the reason for his wayward romantic behavior, apart from his extreme hormonal urges, is an affair that he strikes with a Mata Hari like fellow agent, Patricia (Julia Roberts unconvincing as a lethal female).
The movie cleverly argues that Barris was successful is salvaging his cover owing to the fact that he escorted winners on the game shows to the locations where his assignments were due. While the movie never makes it clear whether this may or may not be the truth, it never attempts to be anything more than pleasurable entertainment. There are times when we feel Clooney wants us to empathize with the Rockwell character, such as in the opening moments when we meet Chuck in a hotel room in the early 80's, just before he sets out to write his story, but the insensitivity of the script and its failure to make us truly see a human element in any of what happens makes it rather blunt once the initial fun of the secret agent trying not to blow his cover has worn off.
The movie also heavily suffers from a slow mid patch that fails to generate the same kind of excitement that we are offered during the fresh opening moments. Part of that freshness comes from Clooney mostly capable ability as a director. He proves here his natural ability as filmmaker, balancing equal parts humor with thrills. But not without faltering. Feeling the need to make a very strong first impression, he throws every trick known to him, from color filters to splits, non linear chronology and vivid camera moves. While all of this is admirable, it only proves to be a desperate and distracting act, taking away from the complexity of the already dissuadable script and calling too much attention to the visuals, which while good, should never have been the driving force in this film.
But make no mistake, this is equal parts Clooney's success as a director and Rockwell's as a leading actor. It may not have the impact that one has come to expect from a Kaufman script but it proves to be a defining prospect for both of them and will probably pave the way to greater success as director and actor respectively. - Faizan Rashid