CONFESSIONS of a dangerous mind
Film Length: 114 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 encoded 2.40:1
Audio: DD 5.1 (English, French)
Extras: Deleted Scenes (12), Behind-the-scenes vignettes (6), feature commentary
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2003
The film is based on the autobiography of Chuck Barris. For those of you (like me) who wouldn’t immediately know, this is the man who spawned a new era of television programming with shows like "The Dating Game" and "The Newlywed Game". For better or worse, he’s the man who many say symbolizes the beginning of the trend for low-brow television entertainment that has now become the standard of what you'll see if you turn on your TV during normal business hours.
To add some drama, in his autobiography Barris claims to have worked for the CIA during his television production career. There is much debate as to the veracity of these claims, but this film takes Barris’ autobiography at face-value and lets the viewer make up his/her own mind.
Overall I found the story interesting and reasonably involving. I think that the creators of this film might have been trying to get closer to "engaging" or "suspenseful" but I’m not sure...but I certainly found it worth the 2 hours nevertheless. This film reminded me heavily of “Network” (a seminal classic to be sure) and I’d say that any of you who really enjoy that film should check out Confessions as well. The film ends with a creative twist that I rather enjoyed and for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I hope it hits you the same way.
This is George Clooney’s first big debut as a director and I have to say I think he’s done a laudable job. This film isn’t perfect, and I’m not convinced it accomplishes everything that it sets out to do, but there are many praise-worthy aspects of this film that keep it going and give it something more substantial than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood flick generally offers these days.
For one, Clooney and his crew of camera men could easily be considered geniuses of the lens. The 2.40:1 frame is used to scintillating effect—the sensation is that you’re watching a constantly-changing 2.40:1 work of visual art. Color pallet is stylized and only ads to the artistry...whites are often overblown and some scenes almost appear like hand-painted B&W photographs (the director’s commentary does a great job connecting all these things to their artistic intention for those of you interested).
One thing worth noting in particular is the way Clooney achieves “special effects” without ever leaving the camera. Rather than being drowned in a deluge of digital post-production effects, Clooney has taken a bold move to achieve most of his desired “effects” by creative camera movements, stage-scene alterations (on the fly) and fast-moving actors. You’ll see scenes where the camera pans from one side of the room to the other and when it returns back to where you started you’ve changed locations. No...it’s not splicing together different shots by using some digital magic to blend the join...there were people scrambling to move props and change clothes while the camera was in motion before it returned to its place of origin to achieve that effect.
I have to say I really found this marvelous...and even before getting to the behind-the-scenes vignettes or listening to the commentary (which discuss these techniques at length) I found myself inspired and connecting with these “real” effects; even without being sure of how these types of shots were being achieved there was something tangible and physical about them that “connected” to me as a viewer in a way that post-production special effects just can’t match. It felt more visceral...more like watching a live-performance dance which becomes more impressive as you begin to realize you’re not just seeing the final polished moment spliced in with 100 other practiced and polished moments--like a pop recording where each musician just pastes in their track once it’s perfect--but more like a live musical event which involves the coordinated effort of a great many people all working together in perfect synchronicity for minutes at a time. I think that anyone interested in film as an art (or any film-students out there) need to watch this movie to see what I’m talking about.
Not as Good...
What didn’t impress me? Well, for one I never found myself highly emotionally involved with the characters (except Penny) and the story didn’t have quite the suspense that I think it might have been trying to achieve. It’s greatest weakness IMO was the use of big-name actors to play not-big characters. Clooney plays a CIA agent in the film and he pulls it off admirably...mostly because he really doesn’t look or act like George Clooney in the role and so you can take it seriously. I’ve heard others be critical of her but I have to say that likewise Drew Barrymore also did an excellent job and really seemed to fit the part (though she was unmistakably “Drew Barrymore”).
But what I found jarring were the instances once the movie had established itself where suddenly you’d find yourself recognizing another famous actor on the screen as if to say “peekaboo...here I am!”. For example, in one scene a camera pan happened to drift by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt who had just dropped in for a brief and gratuitous cameo. The sensation was almost like someone on the screen was shooting a watergun into your face. I think that because Clooney is a big-name actor he doesn’t quite “get” how distracting such cameo appearances can be. For me, it tended to make the movie feel like an actor-jack-in-the-box game and I found myself waiting to see who I was going to see next. To her credit, Julia Roberts played her role well, but I never quite got over my “hey, that’s Julia Roberts!” reaction once she was introduced 3/4 into the film.
In my experience, this sort of thing breaks the movie “spell” for the viewer and therefore big-name actors need to be used sparingly and only when really warranted. I think on a repeated viewing I would enjoy the film more as I’d already know in advance all the actors I’d be meeting and I could enjoy the film without their appearances becoming such a distraction, but I think this is weakness worth noting for first-time viewers (hopefully knowing that they’re coming will help you shake the “hey! That’s so and so” reaction when it happens).
On my 16x9 Proscan the image looked marvelous. The stylized color pallet really makes this film look sumptuous. The 2.40:1 image looked outstanding: black-level was solid, colors strong, and detail was good. I’ve seen sharper/more detailed pictures off of DVD and though I think the slight “soft” edge to this movie might be part of the intended look (those who saw it theatrically please offer your comments to assist), I can't help but get the feeling that I’m seeing a bit of softness due to some electronic filtering as well. Don’t get me wrong, the image is stable and detail is good...but I can’t shake the feeling that detail ought to be rendered a little more clearly.
The only time any haloing from “EE” seemed to reveal itself was when from time to time a text-overlay would appear on the screen to announce the location and ringing could clearly been seen on all sides of the sharply defined text. Perhaps just one or two other minor halos could be seen on rare occasion but nothing obvious or distracting to my eyes. Other than that, the transfer looks smooth and natural and very film-like.
Compression artifacting seemed to not be an issue either. I was able to move quite close to my screen...to just about 2 screen widths away (really, really close for my direct-view, I can start to see shadowmask artifacts from here) and still the image looked natural and smooth. I think owners with projection systems or larger HDTVs will be impressed. As usual, once the disc is in your hands I encourage anyone who desires to share your own impressions of picture quality with us here in this thread (making explicit the equipment you use so we’ll know how to put your comments in context).
So shaving off just a fraction for a bit of softness that might be due to a touch of detail filtering (and if anyone out there convinces me this is the source elements and not DVD mastering I’ll change my score):
Picture: 4.5 / 5
Sound quality is very good in this 5.1 mix. The mix is front-heavy but this is not an action film nor is it music or effects laden. Directional dialogue is even used in a few scenes which always impresses me...that shows a mixing engineer who isn’t “locked” into “center mode” and can think outside the box. I never had to adjust levels while watching the film to maintain dialogue intelligibility. Sound was extended and smooth...never edgy or glaring and seemed well extended. Not a mix to show off your surround speakers to your friends and I would have liked to have seen the movie make more use of the surround channels, but as it stands now it’s still a nice mix that didn’t leave me feeling cheated (those of you with “I want to hear sound coming out of my back speakers” will definitely feel somewhat cheated, so be warned).
So docking a point for what I feel was a slightly missed artistic opportunity to make better use of the surrounds in this otherwise great-sounding mix:
Sound: 4 / 5
This should really be labled a “special edition” IMO. We get a total of 12 deleted scenes (4x3 lbxed) with optional commentary, a total of 6 five-ten minute vignettes of “behind the scenes” stuff. We also get a really great commentary (2.0 DD) for the feature film that goes into depth about how many of the scenes (remember the ones I talked about earlier that were actual effects and not post-production editing effects?) were accomplished as well as the usual movie-making trivia. The commentary is relevant and comprehensive—anyone who enjoys this movie or is interested in any of the technical aspects of the film-style and camera techniques should enjoy it. We’ve got a few more extras like a brief documentary on the “real” Chuck Barris and some screen tests. All in all I consider this about as loaded as one can get without going to 2-discs or sacrificing picture quality. Good job Miramax!
I’m not sure if everyone would walk away liking this film as much as I did; I’m aware that much of what I liked about it had more to do with stylistic images and innovative camera techniques that really excited me. However, I do think that this film has something special to offer everyone...especially if you're interested in the art of film-making. So give this movie a try...rent or buy. And the very good image transfer and soundtrack, along with great extras, make it a no-brainer for those of you who enjoyed this film theatrically.