For all those who want to step up to the plate, we have one of the craziest plays in town with game shows, spies, and international killers losing their minds, all perfectly blended in this 2002 movie, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
The story follows the strange biography of Chuck Barris, a highly successful TV host, producer, and author in the 1960s and 1970s.
We begin following his life while he was a young NBC intern in Manhattan as an assistant for American Bandstand in 1961.
Although he has many ideas for new TV shows, the network producers give him no chance, continuing to prefer the old broadcast standards.
Everything changes forever when a mysterious man approaches him after a trivial pub fight, claiming to be a CIA agent and convincing him to participate in challenging training to become a contract killer.
After his first mission and first murder, the network finally allows him to create his program, The Dating Game, which is immediately a huge hit with American audiences.
Moreover, since he must accompany the game’s winners on vacation to different places worldwide each time, it was also a perfect cover when Barris needed to work for the CIA.
At that time, Barris began dating Penny, an innocent, cheerful, and sunny girl; at the same time, having an affair with the dark and mysterious Patricia, another spy organizing the practical side of his missions.
While Barris’ television career continued to flourish with other highly successful programs such as The Newlywed Game and The Gong Show, this double life, unfortunately, began to weigh on his mental health.
To make matters permanently worse, some of his fellow killers began to die, while the CIA feared there might be a traitor in his group.
Cold War Comedy Thrill
Besides being one of the best movies of 2002, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind stands out for unique atmosphere, effectively combining the drama thriller and the classic comedy from the 1960s and 1970s television.
Similarly, George Clooney‘s directing technique alternates between an essential sitcom-style steady shot format to more complicated camera movements through sets that unfold, moving into the next scene without cuts.
Despite some situation’s absurdity, James D. Bissell‘s set design and Renée April‘s costumes always maintain a fair amount of realism, faithfully reproducing the television studio environments and those exotic locations in which Barris carried out missions for the CIA.
Overall there’s a good feel for the dark and dangerous mood of the Cold War days, where the ideological heavyweights of Capitalism and Communism fought each other in light and shadow on either side of the Berlin Wall.
Simply outstanding is Stephen Mirrione‘s editing, which keeps comedy, thriller, and romance together within the fast pace of the protagonist’s double life and struggles against his inner demons.
In this sense, those moments where Barris thinks back to his unhappy childhood with the cold relationship between his mother and father, mixed with the increasingly frequent nightmares of his murders, are hilarious and gloomy.
From these surreal moments, he pulls out the idea of The Newlywed Game or the insight that would lead to The Gong Show, the latter, for example, while imagining himself shooting to death an insufferable guitarist.
Even better are the spy plot with the cool attitudes of classic James Bond and the usual betrayals, as in the splendid climax where the killers comically try to poison each other, but only one will succeed.
Will the biography of Chuck Barris be true? Of course, even if it were, who would ever admit it?
A dangerously good cast
Aside from the perfect technical side, the cast has an infectious enthusiasm and overwhelming lightness, competing for who was the best in every movie scene.
Above them all, we have a spectacular Sam Rockwell, capturing the essence of the character and bringing to life the comic and sarcastic side while never neglecting the dark and tormented facet of Barris.
This quirky man emerges as both strong and pathetic at the same time, confident in one moment while immediately collapsing under his psychological fragility and fears he dare not confess to anyone.
Just as he lives between darkness and light, he equally divides his love between two women who could not be more different from each other.
Officially his partner is Penny Pacino, played by Drew Barrymore, who combines her naïve and likable innocence while not giving up being sexy and provocative, making for a purely irresistible mix.
No less exciting is the gorgeous dark lady with the face of Julia Roberts, who we might describe in part as a stereotype of the cold and calculating spy, yet also hard to pin down in her motivations and true personality.
The interplay between the two personas and between the movie’s comic and dramatic episodes is then punctuated by the sporadic appearances of George Clooney‘s character, namely Jim Byrd, the mysterious CIA recruiter.
On the one hand, Byrd appears as a mentor to Barris, helping him to understand his own nature as an assassin, which he continues to disavow; still, he doesn’t mind manipulating his life and career to control him completely.
Unfortunately, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was not a big box-office success in 2002, but it remained one of George Clooney’s most accomplished and effective movies as a director.