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:: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

George Clooney’s directorial debut is much like George Clooney himself; slick, good-looking and a little smug. To his credit, Clooney did not pick a self-righteous talkfest in which to display his own depth, unlike many an actor turned director. He knows he doesn’t have any. Instead he chose the unlikely autobiography of game show producer and host Chuck Barris, adapted by Hollywood’s latest golden boy, Charlie Kauffman.

Barris’s autobiography, first published in 1984, claims that along with creating The Dating Game (the ancestor to our own Perfect Match), the Newly Wed Game and The Gong Show (which was copied by Red Faces for many years on Hey Hey It’s Saturday), Barris was also a hit man for the CIA and killed thirty three people whilst chaperoning winning couples from The Dating Game. Whether this is true or not, Barris will not say and no one else is able to confirm, but that’s hardly the point. The man is clearly off his nut and everything he says and does is a performance. I suspect if it was true, the CIA would have silenced him long before the story ever made it to the screen.

Barris is bravely played Sam Rockwell. This is not a likeable character and Rockwell certainly doesn’t strain to make him one. It is only through his girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore) that we even suspect there is something lovable about this man, since she loves him. The film is peopled with many of Clooney’s friends. Julia Roberts is in a typical role as well as brief cameos from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Clooney himself plays the role of Jim Byrd, Barris’s CIA handler, and for once is not even remotely suave or even particularly expressive. I think the character would have had more menace and more heart had someone else played him.

As a director, Clooney inherited his bag of tricks directly from Steven Soderbergh, who was executive producer on the film. The lush, stylish close ups, the sensual out of focus shots, the hip stylised seventies and eighties recreations are all familiar from Out Of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven, with even a dash of Solaris. What Clooney lacks is pace. The Barris book is a rollercoaster ride of TV anecdotes and exotic assassinations. It moves much quicker than the film, which leaves a lot of space around each moment, sometimes to its detriment. Even when Barris is most at peril, we don’t really feel it.

There is no one to really empathise with or root for in this film, Barris hates himself and it’s easy to see why. Without going into the specifics of his game shows it’s easy to miss the man’s real genius – he practically invented reality TV, for better or for worse. Nonetheless this is a solid directorial debut and will certainly put Sam Rockwell squarely on the road to stardom that Barris himself abandoned long ago.

Screening on general release.