Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (US - BD RA)
Jonathan reviews the Blu-ray of George Clooney's directorial debut...
George Clooney ( Ocean's Thirteen, Up in the Air) makes his directorial debut and stars alongside Drew Barrymore ( He's Just Not That Into You), Sam Rockwell ( Iron Man 2) and Julia Roberts ( Eat Pray Love) in the comedy thriller that poses an irresistible question: What would happen if a wildly successful TV producer was also a top secret CIA assassin? A game show creator's double life begins to spiral out of control as he is drawn into a world of danger as a covert government operative. Based on Chuck Barris's cult classic autobiography. (From the Miramax synopsis)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was one of the first films where Sam Rockwell caught my eye, and he has been one of my favourite actors since (how he didn't get a nomination for Moon is something I'll never understand). His eccentric acting style is a perfect marriage to the Barris as a movie character, and it makes for an electric performance. I didn't realize it when I first saw it, but its also a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote wonderfully offbeat gems like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Adaptation. His knack for writing creative and original screenplays is very much present here. I have not personally read Chuck Barris's autobiography, but in it he claims to have worked for the CIA during the 60's and 70's while he was hosting and producing gameshows. This outlandish claim has gone unproven. The CIA has denied any involvement with Barris, and Barris himself has refused to go into much further detail on the matter. Kaufman got the idea of writing a movie that would take this claim as truth and run with it. The result is a mostly successful mix of dark comedy, crime thrills, and a fascinating character piece at the center. It serves as a brilliant showcase of Rockwell's talent and proved that Clooney possesses real talent behind the camera as well.
The screenplay cleverly interweaves the true story of Barris's life (taken from interviews and journals) with the seemingly fictional accounting of his CIA work. For one example: Barris hosted The Dating Show, where a female contestant would ask three male's questions from the other side of a wall, and choose which one she would like to go on a date with at the end. The producers of the show would then send the couple on date. Barris would chaperone these couples and their vacations would be in foreign countries where Barris had CIA work that needed to be done. The CIA scenes are almost farical in tone. He meets women in dark smokey bars to talk over smooth jazz music. It is silly, but it feels appropriate and is often quite funny. Segments of the movie are punctuated by interviews with other people in the game show business, such as Dick Clark, talking about Barris. At first glance, these feel out of place. They're something entirely genuine in a movie that experiments liberally with the truth, but when you hear what they have to say it starts to blur the line between fiction and reality. Occasionally the film's shifts in tone can be tedious. One moment you're watching a spy scenes that looks like something out of The Third Man, and the next you're watching a man and woman argue about relational issues. Even though the content of each scene is entertaining in its own right, they don't always gel into a cohesive narrative.
When the film is not dabbling in espionage, it is busy telling Barris's story in an interesting way. He was a major producer in the game show business, and while he was not appreciated for it at the time, he founded ideas that are still used in popular television today. Shows like America's Got Talent and The X Factor wouldn't exist without The Gong Show. He seems like a fairly enigmatic character too; crass by nature but quite capable and friendly as a boss. He understood people. He knew how to work with them, and he knew what they liked to watch. Rockwell portrays him effortlessly, making the character irritating and despicable at the right times, but also someone you can feel sympathy towards when the story calls for it. It's not an easy balancing act. Stylistically, the film is all over the map. Clooney employs a variety of visual techniques, most of which involve manipulating colours. Many scenes feature a black and white appearance, but reds or blues will remain barely visible. Flashbacks have a flattened old fashioned look to them, almost like a colourized black and white film. It's an interesting touch that tries to make the movie look like it was filmed during that time period. Scorsese went on to do the same thing more convincingly in The Aviator. There are a few sequences in the film where things take a very chilly and surreal turn, almost like a psychological thriller of sorts. They don't always make sense in the context of the plot, but they give the entire narrative a certain mystique that forces you to read between the lines. It makes for a rather interesting journey; one that fans of Sam Rockwell's acting or George Clooney's directorial efforts should make it a point to see.
Due to the varying stylistic touches to the film's appearance, this 1080p transfer from Lionsgate isn't always consistent. It takes up approximately 19 GB of a BD-25. Much of the movie is made to have an old fashioned appearance to it. During these segments (see the first screen cap) colours are flatter and almost pastel like, brightness levels are overblown, and a lot of detail is smudged out. The image almost looks solarized. Sometimes the colour is manipulated to make a certain shade pop out. This movie did "the Sin City" thing before Sin City did. As a first time director, it seems that Clooney was eager to give his film a distinctive appearance. It fits the time periods and the subject matter just fine, but it doesn't make for an attractive high definition experience. Still, this Blu-ray image preserves the look better than the DVD which easily gives way to compression artefacts in those parts. When the film isn't using these image manipulations, it looks just fine. As you can hopefully see from the comparison screen caps, detail is a big leap forwards from the DVD. Distant objects and text are far more distinguished. Colours are stronger and black levels are deeper without ever crushing out detail that was in the DVD transfer. Occasionally the transfer has some issues that I noticed in other Lionsgate Miramax releases. It isn't incredibly evident from stills, but when the camera is in motion it's easy to notice some macroblocking in solid colours and the occasional aliasing on a distant car grill or wall pattern. Again, a minor problem, but it does draw attention to the fact that you're watching a digital image and not film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track complements the film nicely. For the most part the audio track is just people talking, and dialogue levels are more than fine here. They stick to front speakers, but occasionally the surround speakers are used when people are talking from off screen. Aside from that, the extra channels are filled with environmental noise. Outdoor scenes will feature birds and/or crickets chirping. When we're looking at the stage of a gameshow, the stereo speakers are usually filled by the band playing. The LFE channel gets the occasional workout. In one scene where something rather dark happens there is a low, sustained rumble in the soundtrack that shakes the room nicely. In the commentary track, Clooney mentions that this "monolithic 2001" sound effect blew out some speakers at a Writer's Guild screening. Another scene has a heartbeat that seemed like it was only coming from the bass speaker. The film doesn't have a lot of memorable uses of music, but all of the songs have depth and clarity in this mix without drowning out any important sound effects or talking. This isn't the type of movie with sound engineering that'll knock your socks off, but this is a faithful mix that shouldn't disappoint fans.
The extras included with this release are from the original Miramax DVD. Though I was being hopeful for some nice new HD extras, these are still great extras that fans of the movie will enjoy delving into. The audio commentary with George Clooney and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel is very informative of the filmmaking process. Clooney talks a lot about the shooting processes and locations. They have some fun joking around and laughing about things that happened on set. They don't touch on the fiction VS reality thing much at all. Perhaps if Kaufman was involved in the commentary track there would be a lot more of that.
Behind the Scenes (SD, 22:52): This feature starts off with Clooney and the cast members giving their take on whether or not they believed Barris was in the CIA. Apparently Bryan Singer was originally attached to direct it and Clooney was only going to star in it. After that fell through, Clooney took over directing. Julia Roberts wasn't even paid for her work in the film. The cast members all come off as incredibly modest and nice people, especially Clooney and Rockwell. They're all very passionate about Kaufman's script, even the real Chuck Barris who weighs in from time to time. They go into much further detail on the style of the film and what drew everyone to the project. It's a lot of valuable content for twenty-three minutes that any fan of the film should find delightful.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 23:00): There are eleven scenes total. I found these to be interesting and worth taking a look at, though I couldn't see myself watching them again. Clooney and cinematographer Sigel have a commentary track for this feature as well, which explains more than you'll ever need to know about these scenes.
Sam Rockwell Screen Tests (SD, 07:11): There are three total. As with most screen tests, the scenes themselves aren't particularly valuable to watch in this condition, but if you're a big fan of Rockwell like myself, watching him perform here is still a treat.
The Real Chuck Barris (SD, 06:15): A brief but insightful featurette comprised of the same interviews used in the film. Barris himself talks in this extra, and you get an idea of what the real man was like. It's fascinating to see different people who knew him give accounts of him, but the one thing they all seem to unanimously agree on is that he could not have killed anybody. I found myself wishing it was longer.
Gong Show Acts (SD, 04:53): Four brief segments of Gong Show performers that were shot for the movie. These are incredibly odd and a little amusing. They're strangely creepy, which falls in line with the rest of the film.
I'm happy to report that Confessions of a Dangerous has held up quite well over the years. Despite some narrative hiccups that don't always click, it's a wonderful change of pace from the usual Hollywood biopic with a lot of wit and character. It still remains one of Sam Rockwell's most memorable performances and it marked the beginning of a promising career for George Clooney behind the camera. Lionsgate has done a great job of bringing this underappreciated film to Blu-ray with a strong video and audio presentation. Extras are ported over from the original Miramax DVD, but they are still very worthwhile.
* Note: The above images are taken from the DVD and Blu-ray releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 1st November 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Feature Commentary with Director George Clooney and Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, Behind the Scenes, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, Sam Rockwell Screen Test, "The Real Chuck Barris", Gong Show Acts
Easter Egg: No
Director: George Clooney
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney
Genre: Comedy, Crime and Drama
Length: 114 minutes
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