Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on July 27, 2013 at 11:31 am

Theatrical Poster

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Directed by George Clooney
Netflix Rating: Liked It

Based on the unauthorized autobiography of 1970’s Trash-TV icon Chuck Barris, and adapted for the screen by Charlie Kaufman, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a highly taut espionage/comedy thriller directed by George Clooney and starring Sam Rockwell. As is the case with any Kaufman script worth its salt, the film is riddled with non-conventional narrative decisions, such as interspersing the performed scenes of dramatic reinvention with actual interviews of the film’s intended subjects, thus blurring the line between the fiction on the screen and the reality of Barris’ personal identity. Much of this ambiguity comes from the fact that Barris’ autobiography may or may not have been true; more likely than not, Barris was never enlisted in the CIA, and most of the events that are depicted over the course of the film’s narrative are nothing more than absurd fantasies made real by the magic of story and some interesting choices in the saturation of the color of the filmic images displayed on the screen. Either way, Confessions is one of those oddball films that you almost can’t believe exist, and are subsequently overjoyed to find actually do exist, and are surprisingly entertaining and inventive. In what was his directorial debut, Clooney found a film that walked a fine line between the conservative and the liberal, the rational and the absurd, and came out on top with one of his most interesting and uncharacteristic films of his entire career.

Centered on the lively performance of Sam Rockwell as Barris, Clooney’s film follows the myriad travails and errors of Kaufman’s Barris as he tries to make it big on American television, chase women, and take part in top secret missions as an assassin for the CIA. The film’s plot unrolls at a breakneck, hazy speed, further distorting the realities of Barris’ tale from the actual circumstances of history. Rockwell as Barris embodies grotesqueness at its very finest, straddling the middle ground of likability with complete and total moral and sexual depravity, simultaneously begging for and rebuking the affections of his perspective audience. Kaufman’s script is uninterested in Barris as an actual historical being with a very real physical presence in the world, and instead opts to use his story and persona for a more broadly comic and satirical look at the romantic and sexual expectations of the American male. Such a focus in subject is by no means new territory for Kaufman, whose entire cinematic oeuvre has been preoccupied with this very subject, yet it is different for Clooney, and interestingly so.

In taking on such a script, Clooney brings a certain clinical or detached nature to the film’s hyper-sexualized, romantically subjective protagonist, examining his behavior and actions from a distance without merging his own directorial view with that of the subject’s. In such Kaufman masterpieces as Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York, Kaufman’s subject’s individual interiorities are much of what the viewer sees, all serving to get at the aforementioned and discussed examination of the cinematic perception of what is real and what is imagined. Clooney’s film certainly plays around in the same territory, yet his own sensibility is keenly felt in the film, blending the two distinctive personalities of Kaufman and Clooney into a film that becomes indistinguishably fascinating. Clooney revels in directing sequences of international espionage and back alley assassinations, while Kaufman’s script maintains a firm grounding on the interiority and realism of the characters. There are certainly some possible inadequacies of such a disparate pairing of cinematic voices in one film, and Confessions is no exception. Nevertheless, the finished film’s granted excesses and combined personal flourishes result in a film that is unlike anything else, and proves to be an unlikely pairing of cinematic minds that is surprisingly fruitful.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is one of the most perplexing George Clooney directed pictures, and one of the more unlikely Charlie Kaufman scripts. Chuck Barris as historically based protagonist and subject grants ground for both of these creative minds to work, leading to a pairing of tastes, proclivities, and vision that is utterly original, refreshing, and exciting. Confessions takes hold of the attention of the viewer from the very first line of voice-over narration, and continues to enthrall up to the very last shot of sober reflection. Clooney and Kaufman have collaboratively produced a film that is unrelentingly peculiar, challenging the viewer to make heads or tails of how the film is asking one to think of Barris by the film’s ultimate conclusion. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind might not be one of the seminal film’s of either Clooney’s or Kaufman’s respective careers, yet it is a fantastically creative work that should be seen by anyone interested in either of these two filmmakers’ complete bodies of work.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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