by Natasha Theobald
Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I was watching a movie directed by George Clooney, but it took me a while. You can learn about an actor by watching their work, but film is a director's medium. That is where you learn about the artist. So, what did I learn about George Clooney? If the movie speaks to the man, he's not afraid to be dark, he's not afraid to be sexual, and he's not afraid to not be liked. I found all of that deeply satisfying.The film is based on Chuck Barris' autobiography, his own account of the events of his career and his life. According to Barris, not only was he responsible for giving the world some kitschy television mayhem, he was also responsible for the deaths of more than thirty people, as an outside contractor used by the CIA. In fact, Chuck was using his day job to cover for his other work, chaperoning young couples on their TV fix-ups to countries where he could mix the business of show with the business of espionage, or, rather, the post espionage clean-up, the part where information leads to identification and elimination.
"Sinners can't be choosers."
Barris, as played by Sam Rockwell and written by Charlie Kaufman, is not a hero. He's not even an anti-hero, as I think of it. If one were struggling to find an A word to fit him, asshole might be most descriptive, if rather vague. It is an understatement to say that this is a flawed character. He is beyond flawed. It's very hard to stay with him at times, as he garners little sympathy or understanding. The thing is, I can respect that. Give me a film about an unlikeable guy. I'd like to know how his mind worms around. Rockwell's performance is good, because he doesn't pander. He doesn't try to give this guy humanity by shedding a small tear or giving a sweet speech. This character is unrepentently himself, love him or loathe him.
Drew Barrymore plays Penny, a girl as sweet as Barris is sour. For some reason, Penny knows him and loves him anyway. She does shed some tears, but she accepts what he is able to give her, for the most part, and seldom lets her natural, sunny disposition become marred by his surly behavior. There is another woman, many other women, but one in particular is played by Julia Roberts. Her attraction to Barris is odd, her expression of that attraction is odd, but the relationship is interesting for comparison.
There are lots of great actors portraying other characters, including Clooney himself as the guy who first approaches Barris' would-be assassin. Rutger Hauer, for example, is welcome as another man in the murky, non-television world Barris inhabits. There also are real life figures, including Dick Clark and Barris, offering interviews and insight. I've always thought Barris had an interesting face, and seeing it now intrigues me further.
This film has a unique visual style, with interesting use of color and light. The cinematographer was Newton Thomas Sigel. The world created is sometimes hyper-real and sometimes utterly surreal. Light is used in interesting ways on actors' faces, particularly with Clooney, whose character is a shadowy, possibly fictional presence. There is one remarkable scene by a swimming pool, and I will probably buy the DVD because of it.
This film also is not afraid of silence. There are times of chaos when everything drops away but the score. Simple tones play under the pictures of the scenes in a really interesting, arresting way. The visual impact of an event, or the emotion underlying the event, is greater for the simplified auditory, if that makes sense.I admire the audacity of this film, its daring. I admire the characters, who aren't easily corralled or identified by type. I admire that Sam Rockwell was so willing to show his ass, literally and figuratively. And, I admire the lack of sweetness or sentimentality, the brusque 'take it or leave it' quality of the character, the story, and the film. Thank goodness for people with voice and vision who aren't afraid to be different enough that everyone won't like them.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=6500&reviewer=317
originally posted: 12/08/04 04:58:53