Comfortable and Furious

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

In the fine tradition of Permanent Midnight and Autofocus, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind lets us see just how totally fucked up the people making the shit we watch on the boob tube truly are. That said, there are a few unbelievable things about Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. I didn’t find the plot all that unbelievable. Either Chuck Barris had an advanced (and fun!) form of schizophrenia, or he really did simultaneously work as a CIA assassin and a game show host. Fine. I’ll buy either one. That’s not the unbelievable stuff. The unbelievable stuff is as follows; George Clooney is an amazing director. Meticulous, detail oriented, and spot on. Julia Roberts had the most interesting role and did the best job in the movie. She should have had more screen time. Drew Barrymore didn’t make me want to slit my throat; a first. And finally, Sam Rockwell was good in this movie. Really, really good.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind starts off with a young Chuck Barris. He seems fairly aimless and is basically only concerned with getting laid. In fact, we see an eleven-year-old Chuckie convincing a nine-year-old friend of his sister to blow him by telling her, “It tastes just like strawberries. You love strawberries.” Soon we learn that Chuck might be a loser with the ladies, but he has other plans. He becomes interested in television, but it is never clear if his enthusiasm is directed at the medium, or at the beautiful young women who work in TV. He goes home with an assistant one night (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and after he’s done with her, Chuck meets her aloof, dingbat roommate, Penny (Drew Barrymore), and then screws her.

The same night, in the same apartment! Pretty Ruthless. This starts the beginning of one of those decades long tragic Hollywood relationships, where both people are extremely fucking damaged to start, and by the end of it, one is no longer able to handle the more deranged partner. Eerily similar to how Bob Crane and his second wife were portrayed in the disappointing Autofocus. Even though Chuck and Penny start the relationship off both declaring that monogamy is not their bag, ultimately his adultery pushes her away. Unlike Autofocus however, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind doesn’t suck.

Somewhere along the way, Chuck gets contacted by Jim Byrd (El Jorge Clooney ). Byrd says he’s a CIA agent and because Chuck fits a certain profile, Byrd feels he would make an excellent assassin. After a minor amount of hesitation, Barris enthusiastically agrees. Chuck disappears for eight or so weeks and comes back as a highly trained hit man. The brilliance of the movie is how Clooney and Charlie Kaufman interweave this plot thread in with the fact that at the same time, Barris was producing The Dating Game. Byrd and Barris concoct a scheme to spice up The Dating Game by sending the winning couple on an exotic “date.” However, the big TV networks back in the 60’s weren’t about to send unmarried young people off to romantic foreign locals, so, they send Chuckie along as a chaperone. The perfect cover for his cloak and dagger activites.

Now with corporate sponsorship, Barris kills a whole mess of people, begins a tumultuous affair with a fellow spy/sex-bomb Patricia (Roberts) and befriends the refined yet brutal East German agent Keeler, played quite deliciously by Rutger Hauer. The years roll and he gets The Gong Show going, only to discover that there is a mole in his little confederacy of killers. Eventually, Chuck is the last man standing. He’s completely insane, but he is standing.

Even though an ace like Charlie Kaufman wrote the script, plot is not the movie’s strong point. Actually, come to think of it, plot is not Kaufman’s strong point. Nuance is. Subtle, brilliant nuance. Some not so subtle, but funny as hell. Luckily for us, Clooney proves himself to be a strong enough director so that none of Kaufman’s little flairs get buried or go unnoticed. What am I talking about? The single most brilliant little extra occurs when Chuck is away at assassin camp. He and the rest of the would-be killers are out on the rifle range, firing away at targets. Now, it is the mid-sixties so the targets are large pictures of Mao, Castro and Khrushchev.

As the camera pans across the targets, we notice that the riflemen are unable to put a bullet in Castro. Nikita and the Chairman are all shot to hell, but Fidel is untouched. Funny. Another great little scene, which I am sure more people will get, is when a woman on The Dating Game keeps going with bachelor #3, an obvious dork. She’s not even interested in the other two guys. Chuck can’t figure it out. Again, as the camera pans we see that bachelors #1 and #2 are Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, respectively. Yeah, it is typical Tinseltown fellatio, but it was funny, clever and unexpected. Plus, later on in the movie we learn exactly why she picked Bachelor #3. Again, nuance.

The whole movie is sprinkled with little jewels like those. In another scene, a Dating Game contestant asks another player, “If you were a trombone, what sort of sound would you make when I blow you.” Then, an hour later into the movie, during some very heavy petting between Chuck and another woman, inexplicably just sitting there in the background, we see a trombone. Did Kaufman script it or did Clooney plant it? Either way, it works well. Not only that, but some of the scenes are frigging spectacular. In particular an alley sequence that takes place in Helsinki. Absolutely Noir, yet laced with a very slight touch of humor – the director’s way of telling us that he knows what he’s doing. Namely, running around inside the mind of a madman. Let me re-stress how impressed with Mr. Clooney I am.

Speaking of impressive, Julia Roberts rules in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. She absolutely steals every scene she is in. And for some inexplicable reason, I was momentarily able to forget that I was looking at the Oscar Award winning actress extraordinaire, America’s Sweetheart, Miss Julia Roberts. Even in Erin Brokovich, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, (Don’t kill me, Matt) there wasn’t a single second where I was not absolutely aware I was watching Julia Roberts, America’s #1 lady and Oprah’s biggest cash cow. Man, this Clooney guy is good.

Like I said earlier, more Julia might have made this great movie even better. At one point Sam’s got to stick some microfilm up his ass. As he exits the bathroom, there is Patricia waiting for him. They flirt momentarily and soon (hysterically) clear everything off the dinner table. After a few smooches, Chuck is trying to excuse himself to take care of you-know-what. Patricia braces him and says, “Leave it in.” Simpsons reference aside, I loved that line. Brilliant.

Now of course, Drew Barrymore was in the movie, too. Charlie’s Angels was a real hunk of crap. Barrymore was the arch-overlord on that movie. So much so that she dictated no guns will be used by the Angels in the movie – despite the fact that on the damn logo from the TV show which the movie is based, all three Angels are holding guns. But, Drew doesn’t like guns, so… She was also in Donnie Darko, quite a good movie, though her character was a moron. She was trying to play a book wormy English teacher and I bought that like I bought the “Just Say No” campaign. In Confessions, however, Drew plays a vapid airhead who mispronounces everything – because she is so stupid. A perfect fit, it worked and I bought it. This just in, if you need an imbecile with big tits, call Ms. Barrymore.

Finally, the performance that really shocked me was Sam Rockwell. A few years back Sam did a criminally underrated movie called, Safe Men. [Ed Note: What the hell happened to Christina Kirk? She’s so hot I commit crimes…] Sam rocked in that role, so I have known all along that he is capable of being good. But in everything else he has done over the years, Mr. Rockwell only seems able to play smarmy assholes who I spend the entire film wanting to punch in the vagina. See Heist. Here in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Rockwell excels. He really turns in one of the better performances I’ve seen this year and is in the running for a Ruthie. Maybe it was Clooney’s direction, maybe Sam has matured as an actor or maybe the part was just perfect for him. Whichever, Rockwell nails Chuck Barris, and nails him well.

Rockwell and Barris

Speaking of homosexual innuendo, a gay friend of mine swears up and down that Clooney is gay. Says he’s seen old George at parties, driving around early in the morning with other men, all sorts of gay stuff. I always dismissed his assertions out of hand because I feel that all groups want big names to be part of them.

Not only is everyone gay according to gays, and everyone a lesbian according to lesbians, but my mother is still dumbfounded why ESPN’s Chris Berman is named Chris. Obviously, she feels, he’s a Jew. But who would name a Jew, “Chris?” However, after watching Confessions I think I might believe my gay friend. Hollywood’s baddest bachelor might be single for a reason. Why? About 10% of the movie is shots of Rockwell’s naked ass, while Roberts, Barrymore and Gyllenhaal all have sex with their clothes on.

Does it matter? Not in the slightest. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a fantastic movie. Inspiring, actually. I’m sure you realize how rare it is for a movie to have terrific acting, an interesting script and sublime direction. Not only does Confessions have all that, but it is funny as hell, too. Well worth your time and hard-earned money/trust fund dividends. Congratulations Mr. Clooney.

Ruthless Ratings

  • Overall: 8
  • Direction: 9
  • Acting: 8
  • Story: 8
  • Re-watchability: 9

Special Ruthless Ratings

  • Number of times you wondered why Rockwell’s ass was so big: 17
  • Number of times Confessions made you smile: 59
  • Number of times Confessions inspired you to seriously write a script, the dream of every sad critic: 34
  • Number of times you thought Julia Roberts was sexy as fuck: 12
  • Number of times you felt the same about Drew: 0
  • Number of times you wished that Maggie G. would have been naked: 3
  • Will you buy Confessions when it comes out on DVD: Yes
  • Number of times you have thought about getting a copy of Barris’s book: 9
  • Number of times you have thought about getting Jerry Stahl’s book after watching Permanent Midnight: 2
  • What type of car does Jerry Stahl drive: A big, black, brand new Cadillac
  • How do you know: Shhh…