Sam Rockwell as Chuck Barris
Drew Barrymore as Penny
George Clooney as CIA Agent Jim Byrd
Julia Roberts as Patricia Watson
Rutger Hauer as Keeler
Linda Tomassone as Monica
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Debbie
George Clooney proves that he has some behind-the-camera chops in his directorial debut leading the brilliant Sam Rockwell through the narrows and straights of Chuck Barris’ dangerous mind.
Chuck Barris is a struggling human being. He’s young and down on his luck and unlucky in love. Then he makes a change. He pursues television as a vehicle for his percolating imagination. He works his way up the ranks at NBC from tour guide to junior executive when he gets a shot at his own show – something he calls The Dating Game. What Chuck doesn’t know is that he is being watched. Not by the studio honchos, but by the Central Intelligence Agency. He is approached one night at a bar by a CIA man named Byrd who proposes that Barris come to work for them as an assassin. Barris you see ‘fits the profile’ of the type of men they’re after. Even with Chuck’s luck turning at the network, he agrees to train under Byrd. What results is a fairly comical co-mingling of Barris’ television life and his black ops life. Is any of it true? Tough to say. Chuck isn’t talking.
Everyone in this film is fantastic from the centerpiece of Rockwell’s Barris to the limited screen time of up-and-comer Gyllenhaal. I loved all the performances yes, even Drew Barrymore. Rockwell is Barris. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time and I kept getting stuck with images from Galaxy Quest and The Green Mile questioning whether or not Rockwell had it in him to play a believable Barris. Well, you better believe he can. The gestures, speech patterns the Gong Show segment could have been lifted straight from the archives and not been much better.
Kudos go out to Clooney for bringing to life this strange tale of fact or faction. This is a tough tale and not very straightforward. Definitely not the safe, first story out of the blocks many would have picked to be their directorial debut. Props to George for pulling it off.
The present day scenes that are used as cut-ins at various points in the movie are a nice touch. We get reacquainted with former Dating Game host Jim Lange as well as Gong Show regulars Jaye P Morgan, Gene Gene the Dancing Machine and the Unknown Comic. Each of them add little tidbits to the mystery surrounding the story – playing on the fact or fantasy angle.
I’m usually not that big on cameos in films. Mainly because I know about them before I go in, so I’m alert and looking for them. There is a pair of high profile cameos in this film that I did not know about and I’m still laughing.
What Didn’t Work:
While Clooney is an accomplished actor, he is still a rookie when it comes to direction. He does a great job, however there are some instances – kooky camera angles and off-center shots – that try to be more than they are.
I was given a copy of Barris’ book for Christmas. I’ll now dive into that soon, but for now, I can’t wait to see this movie again. It will definitely be part of my DVD collection when it makes it to that medium. The players rock. Charlie Kaufman’s script rocks. Clooney’s direction is strong. Go see this film!