It’s about time someone gave Sam Rockwell a chance to show his stuff in a lead role, and who better than first-time director George Clooney? I am pleased to say that this is a fine little movie, deftly produced and beautifully acted, so go see it already! Rockwell has been in a million movies in a small part or even a memorable medium sized one, (The Green Mile, Welcome to Collinwood, Galaxy Quest) and this is the Big Show. Limning the film adaptation of an autobiography written by a man who is still alive is one thing; when that man is TV’s Chuck Barris and his autobiography includes the claim that when he wasn’t creating and hosting shows like The Gong Show, he was a CIA operative, those are some big, heavy shoes to fill. Rockwell is awesome.
Clooney plays a small but key role (as does superstar Julia Roberts) in Barris’ “secret” life, with Clooney’s usual warm opacity. He’s got the eyes of a heartbreaker, and for Barris, the heartbreak is of a deeper kind: the heart of his purpose. Screenwriting WÃ¼nderkind Charlie Kaufman wisely leaves the question unanswered: was he, or wasn’t he? In the film, it seems equally plausible that he was a part time spy or a schizophrenic. The movie won’t insult Barris by implying he was a nutjob, and it won’t insult your intelligence by forcing you to believe he was a gun-wielding state assassin. But either way, by the end, you don’t even care what is true and what is not, and that is an achievement in and of itself.
2002 (for technically this is a 2002 release) has revealed a troika of Kaufman-driven paeans to self-loathing. Adaptation (sort of the War and Peace of self-loathing), Human Nature, (more like the New Testament of hatred of the self) and finally Confessions, the greatest love story to self-hatred ever written. If you haven’t seen the other films (or Being John Malkovich) check them out and you’ll see what I am talking about. Barris is both a self-proclaimed genius and bad-ass and a completely worthless human being, both in his own eyes. Is that a Playmate speaking his internal monologue to him? Could be. Is that assassin a symbol of his failures? Maybe. Perhaps. The movie is not out to answer questions, but to show you just how deep and intesting those questions can get. And in the mean time, it is damn entertaining. Fantastic, simple, effective transitions between timelines and sets and moods, great camera work (Clooney keeps in touch with his old compadres) and great acting on everyone’s part. Sure, a lot of years go by with no appreciable aging, but so what. It’s a fun story, and a fun movie, despite the human tragedy hinted at within. You’d never know Clooney was in Solaris after seeing this.
It’s funny, in retrospect, to see the guff that Barris took for his ideas. You know he just turns on Fox today and claps himself on the back for being as ahead of the times as he was. Occasional interviews with real Barris acquaintances punctuate the narrative and hint at the mystery behind the man. Kaufman wisely balances the two worlds in Barris’ book, and Clooney does nothing to disrupt that balance. Clooney apparently learned everything that Soderbergh is good at (Erin Brockovich) and nothing he is bad at (Full Frontal), and I look forward to seeing more “A George Clooney Film” titles in the future. But best of all, “Starring Sam Rockwell.” He was simply great. I can elaborate no more. Just go see it.
MPAA Rating R for language, sexual content and violence.
Release date 12/31/02
Time in minutes 113
Director George Clooney