Despite mediocre choices early on in his film career ("One Fine Day", "Peacemaker"), George Clooney has rebounded and shown increasingly good taste in his acting ("Ocean's 11", "Out of Sight") and business (starting a production company with director Steven Soderberg) choices. His performances also have continued to improve, most noticably in the recent, underappreciated and little-seen "Solaris". "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind", the Chuck Barris biopic, written by "Adaptation" writer Charlie Kaufman, seemed like the perfect choice for Clooney's directorial debut.
The film stars Sam Rockwell as Chuck Barris, who, as the film opens, has locked himself into a New York City hotel room to take a look at his life. Unhappy and unsatisfied, he sits down to write his memoirs, partially as a way of closure (I suppose) and as a warning for those headed down his path. Barris, oddly enough, was both a successful creator of popular game shows (The Dating Game and The Gong Show) and a hitman for the CIA. Or was he?
The problem? I couldn't care less. "Confessions" doesn't work for several reasons. Firstly and mostly, it's because this is a remarkably unfocused movie that zips between parts and pieces of Barris's life without tying them together well enough to create forward momentum - stretches of "Confessions" drag to the point where the movie almost stalls.
One part of Barris's life seems awfully imaginary, while the other is the usual tale of guy has true love under his nose (in this case, played by Drew Barrymore) and doesn't manage to realize it. Either way, there's not much going on in either half aside from an unlikable individual sliding further into the depths of a darkness that's his own creation. The movie doesn't give us much insight into Barris, aside from the fact that he was depressed and lonely.
Surprisingly, the performances aren't anything too remarkable, either. Despite the hype, Rockwell doesn't manage to make Barris into a character that's either compelling or sympathetic. Barrymore easily plays a sweet, likable character, which makes Barris's self-centered nature even more irritating. I was also surprised that Barrymore and Rockwell didn't have more chemistry, as they worked moderately well together in "Charlie's Angels". Julia Roberts is mis-cast as a secret operative, but at least she gives it a fair try. Clooney's portrayal of a CIA operative who recruits Barris is the only portrayal I found halfway effective in the picture.
Although not entirely an attempt to take from director Steven Soderberg, Clooney does try for a somewhat similar visual style here, aided by ace cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel ("The Usual Suspects"). The only problem is that the movie really didn't need to be as stylized as it is. The frequent shifts in color and tone don't succeed in adding atmosphere - they simply call attention to themselves. Testimonials from real-life figures that are scattered throughout the movie add insights into Barris that the movie should have been able to insert into its own plot, without having to stop for an interview. Cameos from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in one scene are too obvious, as well.
There's moments throughout the movie that work well, but I felt as if they were too far apart. In one scene, Barris attempts to hit on an attractive woman, who hits back by verbally tearing his television "accomplishments" apart. It's an effective, well-played scene. A scene with Barrymore's Penny confronting a cheating Barris in their own house is particularly heartbreaking; after Penny's free-spirited energy throughout the first half, this subtle, strong showing by Barrymore is a reminder that she's capable of more than another "Charlie's Angels". The second half of the picture starts to gain a gravity that makes the film's dark and depressing drama work a bit better, but the movie still never really comes together.
Given what he's likely learned from Soderberg and other directors, I still have confidence that George Clooney will have a strong future both in front of and behind the camera. However, I've tried "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" twice now and simply, I still don't find it to my liking. There's an interesting story at the film's core, but the movie's awkwardly handled mixture of tones, fractured storytelling, low-key nature and average performances simply didn't amount to a movie I found involving.
VIDEO: "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" is presented by Miramax in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's mixture of color palettes and styles leads to a range of different looks that change frequently throughout the picture. As such, picture quality becomes a bit of an issue at times, although it's all intentional. Sharpness and detail often appeared first-rate, with the image boasting a pleasantly smooth and film-like look. However, a few scenes are noticably softer, by intention.
Problems remained fairly few-and-far-between, with only a hint of edge enhancement appearing in a couple of scenes scattered throughout the movie. The print appeared in fine condition, while no pixelation or other issues were noticed. The film's varying color palette appeared accurately rendered and largely, the movie appeared as it did when I viewed it theatrically last Winter.
SOUND: "Confessions" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but it seems largely like a 3.0 soundtrack. Dialogue remains the focus throughout the picture, with little in the way of any ambience or other touches. The score stays mostly rooted in the front speakers, as well. Surround use remained extremely subtle or non-existent.
Commentary: Director/actor George Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel provide a very low-key discussion of the film on their full-length audio commentary. Although both are unexpectedly subdued, they do provide some good humor at times and offer some amusing tales about Clooney's experiences as a first-time director.
Making of: This section provides a series of short (but informative) featurettes, including: "Is It True?", "How It Got Made", "Sam's Interpretation", "Style of the Film", "George, the director", "Dating Game Turntable Scene". There's also a "Play All" option, which plays the entire 22 minutes worth back-to-back.
Deleted Scenes: 11 deleted scenes are offered, with commentary from director/actor George Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel. There's some interesting (a parade shot that offers stunning cinematography) - and dark (Barrymore's character attempts suicide) - material here, but I understood the reasoning that Clooney and Siegel offer as to why the material was deleted.
Also: Still gallery, Sam Rockwell screen test, a 6-minute interview with Chuck Barris and Gong Show acts cut from the movie.
Final Thoughts: Although it arrived to largely positive notice, "Confessions" struggled at the box office, even with a minor re-release recently. Those who are fans of the film will enjoy this well-done DVD edition. However, I would only lightly recommend a rental for those who didn't see it during its theatrical run.