Overflowing with flamboyant, dazzling and largely gaudy photography by Newton Thomas Sigel, whose most recent work on 'Drive' was an equally impressive feat of 21st Century neo-noir realism, 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' spans the vast temporal spaces of one man's life with the same ease it travels between his delusional state of mind. The man in question is TV producer Chuck Barris, who found success in the 1960s and 70s with a string of popular game shows which are still remembered today. Based on Barris' own autobiography, the biopic is a fictionalized telling of an absurdly fictional account of his reign as one of most successful men of television, while he shockingly claims to have been a covert assassin for the CIA at the same time.
An engaging blend of drama and black comedy, with a host of near comic spy-thriller tropes, the film seduces and enchants with an underlying sense of humor that's equal parts thrilling, funny, and darkly tragic. Opening with a naked, shaggy-looking Barris standing over a TV inside a hotel room, images that evoke the similarly reclusive fate of Howard Hughes, it's never made clear where reality ends and fantasy takes over. There's nothing to signify the on-screen action and events as the imagined lunacy of a troubled mind since it's made to appear from the beginning like the ramblings of an individual crying out for help. The intentionality of this is to refuse judgment and remove our ability to question the validity of a Barris' cockamamie claim. Fantastical as it is, what's important is that he believes it to be true, and so we are forced to take his word for it.
Borrowing from several influences, George Clooney made his directorial debut with this bizarre rigmarole, handling the project with a great deal of proficiency and many curious but inspiring moments of oddity. With the experienced voices of Sigel and editor Stephen Mirrione, he blurs the line between fiction and reality with camera angles and framed compositions which are consistently awkward, effectively generating a doubtful and apprehensive environment. Shooting in a wide aspect ratio, Clooney purposefully brings attention to the amount of deep space, either cutting portions of the face at the eyes or having Barris occupy one side of the frame to exaggerate the emptiness surrounding the character. In other scenes, the character may be in the center, but that sense of emptiness remains and is felt throughout.
Clooney's striking approach clearly suggests the character's possibly disturbed mental break without actually outright stating it. Played with a winsome charm that always seems to placate or disguise the character's true melancholic nature, Sam Rockwell is superb as Barris, whose fantasy of doing something of importance supposedly becomes a reality when he's recruited by CIA agent Jim Byrd (Clooney). Coincidently, this happens at around the same time his career on television starts to skyrocket and his long-time girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore) begins dropping hints of matrimony. Over time, the stress induced by the pressures of success and fame take their toll, constantly criticized as the ruin of western civilization, while also simultaneously discovering self-assurance as a contract killer, adding to our suspicions and skepticism of Barris' story.
Julia Roberts also stars as the seductively mysterious secret agent Patricia Watson, a femme fatale type whose sometimes blatantly unsubtle noir features tend to push the narrative into the unfortunately transparent. However, she's allowed one of the film's most poignant observations towards the end of the second act. More interestingly, the script, written by the wildly imaginative Charlie Kaufman, suggests Barris' return to reality only when the characters of his fantasy are finally killed, like one of the hapless contestants of The Gong Show. When the amateur act becomes too unbearable and preposterous, the better-talented celebrity judge strikes the large gong and brings the insufferable performance to a complete stop. And as with every other coincidence seen in the film, 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' is also brought to an abrupt end.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate brings 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' on a Region A, BD25 disc in a blue eco-vortex keepcase. After several skippable trailers, viewers are taken a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
'Dangerous Mind' hit Blu-ray with a highly-stylized and somewhat mesmerizing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Several scenes pop out and impress with the level of detailing and resolution, exposing sharp fine lines in hair and clothing. Facial complexions, especially in close-ups, are very revealing, showing pores, wrinkles and trivial imperfections. Other sequences are intentionally less appealing and downright ugly with a fair amount of blurriness. Some background information can be obscured by the many overwhelmingly dark shadows, but overall visibility is excellent with pleasing delineation during low-lit interiors. Black levels, nonetheless, are opulent and inky rich.
True to the deliberate photographic style of Newton Thomas Sigel, the 2.40:1 image comes with an unusual color palette that drastically changes from scene to scene. Much of the movie is vibrant with exaggerated primaries while softer pastel hues have a pearlescent shine to them. The more bizarre segments are posterized with obvious gradations between various tones, which are intentional for reflecting the absurdity of the moment or a break from reality. The West Berlin scene is largely drained of color, revealing a crisp, well-balanced contrast throughout. The high-def transfer is true to the vision of the filmmakers, and it also looks great on Blu-ray.
Like the video, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also a bit on the stylized side, either to amplify the absurdity of certain scenes or generate some subtle realism. Rear activity is, on the whole, occupied by musical bleeds, keeping viewers engaged, but occasionally, ambient effects are employed, expanding the soundfield and creating some minor envelopment.
The majority of the design is contained in the fronts, where imaging feels convincingly broad and expansive with several excellent off-screen and discrete noises. The soundstage comes with outstanding separation between the channels, as sounds travel from one side of the screen to the other with fluid, flawless movement. Dialogue reproduction in the center is precise and crystal-clear with exceptional intonation in the voices of actors. Dynamic range exhibits clean distinction in the highs while mids are detailed with plenty of warmth and fidelity in the music Alex Wurman and the several song selections. Low bass is equally robust and highly-responsive, adding weight and character to the score and songs. Overall, it's a satisfying and impressive lossless mix.
Overflowing with flamboyant, dazzling, and largely gaudy cinematography, effectively blurring the line between reality and fiction, 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind' follows the success of television producer Chuck Barris and his claim of being a secret agent. Starring Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, and Julia Roberts, and competently directed by George Clooney, the bio-drama is a splendidly entertaining balance of black comedy, mystery and tragedy. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video and a great audio presentation. Although supplemental material could be stronger, or at the least newer, the overall package is satisfying and fans are sure to be pleased with their purchase. Recommended.