Is there anything George Clooney can’t do? He saved hundreds of lives as Dr. Doug Ross on “ER.” He rescued a huge stash of gold bullion from the evil clutches of Saddam Hussein in “Three Kings.” He embarked on a journey of Odyssean proportions through the American South in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” He helmed a heist of three Las Vegas casinos in “Ocean’s Eleven.” And to top off this list of accomplishments, George Clooney survived an interview with a college newspaper arts supplement.
That’s right. Artsweek landed an exclusive interview with the Dapper Dan man himself at the Santa Barbara screening of his new film, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” And by “exclusive interview,” we mean we waited for his team of buffed bodyguards to take a bathroom break before approaching the affable silver screen star with a list of questions. Clooney, who hobbled into the Granada Theatre with a broken right foot last Wednesday, generously answered what questions we could sputter out – maybe because he couldn’t run away.
“I love it in Santa Barbara,” Clooney said. “I’ve got a lot of friends here, and when the opportunity came up to do a screening here, it sounded like a great idea.”
Not only does Clooney act in “Confessions,” but it marks his directorial debut as well. As a first-time director, he expressed apprehension toward watching his movie in a packed theater. “I am definitely going to sit and watch it; you don’t have much opportunity to watch your own movie with a big audience. Before you know it, it’ll be out on video and DVD, and it’s not like I can walk into someone’s living room and sit on their couch and watch their reactions and ask them what they thought. But tonight is a little nerve-wracking. You can find me drunk in the back of the theater after the show.”
When we asked if he was going to kick it downtown with his Santa Barbara friends after the screening, Clooney lifted his fractured foot and said, “Well, I’m not doing much kicking these days.” Charming.
So George Clooney won us over with his geniality and wit, but could his first shot at directing do the same?
“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is based on Chuck Barris’ 1984 “unauthorized autobiography” of the same title. In the book, Barris makes the outrageous claim that while he was creating hit game shows like “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game,” and hosting “The Gong Show,” he was also a contract hit man for the CIA who assassinated 33 people. Sam Rockwell, who portrays Barris in the film, was also available for questions at the Santa Barbara screening.
Rockwell’s performance in “Confessions” is of the breakout variety. He captures the hustle as well as the paranoia of the over-sexed (and perhaps over-imaginative) TV producer and game show host (and perhaps assassin). Rockwell holds his own in every scene, which is quite a feat when you’re sharing scenes with Drew Barrymore, who plays his wife; Julia Roberts, a Cold War-era femme fatale; and Clooney, as CIA agent Jim Byrd. Barrymore and Clooney both deliver solid supporting performances, while Roberts looks clueless and appears to have phoned hers in.
By mishmashing styles as disparate as film noir and documentary, Clooney creates an immediate cult classic with mainstream appeal. His directing choices are brash, and there’s no shortage of glitz and flashiness in “Confessions.” The movie especially receives a jolt of energy from cameos by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt as “Dating Game” contestants.
In a Q&A after the film, Clooney cited’60s and ’70s directors Sidney Lumet and Mike Nichols as his major directorial influences. While the grittiness of Lumet and the comedic flair of Nichols are evident influences, “Confessions” has the look and feel of a movie directed by “Confessions” executive producer and Clooney’s pal Steven Soderbergh.
The only glaring weakness of “Confessions” is its screenplay, penned by “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” scribe Charlie Kaufman. Kaufman and Clooney decided not to question the validity of Barris’ claims (which are ludicrous), and instead present Barris’ story as a surrealistic bio-flick. It’s a smart choice, and the movie maintains a fun, fast and furious pace – until the end, that is. Kaufman’s “big twist” conclusion to “Confessions” is forced and predictable Hollywood fare. Unfortunately for Kaufman, this time there’s no imaginary twin brother to blame the unimaginative ending on, as he did in his most recent screenplay, “Adaptation.”
Despite the forgettable twist at the end, “Confessions” is a movie that aims to entertain and does so successfully. “Confessions” marks the arrival of Clooney as a creative directing talent and Rockwell as a lead actor with considerable range.
After the screening at the Granada concluded, Clooney and Rockwell took the stage for a playful Q&A session with the audience. Although no future projects have emerged, Clooney expressed interest in taking another stab at directing. If it’s a career path he chooses to take, Artsweek will have no qualms awarding him our “Sexiest Director Alive” honor.
Before Artsweek could ask Clooney for the secret of his infectious charm, his army of bodyguards swarmed around and began to whisk him away.
“Good luck with that story,” Clooney said, extending his hand and beaming a high-wattage smile before departing. So, the secret of the rugged A-list actor’s charm, like the mystery of the Sasquatch, shall remain elusive and unknown.