When you watch a biopic based on the supposedly unauthorized autobiography of a well-known game show host and producer, you expect to find out that he was a CIA assassin and that his TV career was, more or less, a cover for that hidden life. Wait…no, you don’t expect that. In fact, it’s kind of difficult to swallow that as the truth though it does make for an interesting story.
Welcome to Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
This 2002 film is an adaptation of a 1982 book written by Chuck Barris, a notorious producer and host of game shows. He’s best known for creating both The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game as well as hosting The Gong Show among a variety of other shows.
It’s during a low point in the growth of his TV career that Barris is approached by the CIA and recruited. He goes on a series of missions, working primarily as an assassin. His personal life suffers due to his double life in TV and killing people for the government, as one might expect.
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This movie went through several attempts to bring it to the big screen over the years. Finally, it was George Clooney in his directorial debut that got the project off the ground with Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore cast in the film. Sam Rockwell took on the part of Chuck Barris and did a superb job in the role. He perfectly balanced the character’s double life on screen and the toll this charade took on him. When the film version of Barris finally breaks down under the pressure, the viewer has been fully hooked into the world
As for the validity of the author’s assertions that he worked for the CIA, they’re questionable at best. Next you’re going to tell me that Pat Sajak was an FBI agent.
Through the book and film, Barris claims to have killed approximately 33 people while in the service of the CIA. In the context of the film, it makes a great plot device. The prolific game show creator is a CIA operative and assassin on the side. The intrigue surrounding this premise is a great driving force for the story. It’s engaging and unique. But is it true?
There really is nothing to confirm the CIA claims made in the movie other than the book it’s based on. When confronted with specific questions during interviews, Barris is evasive, which is odd when you consider that he published a book and produced a movie filled with specifics. It’s hard to believe that the CIA would allow such a key operative to make a wild spectacle of his work with them. And at the height of his TV prominence, Barris was regarded as the king of schlock game shows. While popular with fans, he was certainly not respected by peers or pundits. Many believe that his CIA claims were a way to legitimize himself and his work in the eyes of those who consistently derided him.
Regardless of how true the story might be, it’s still a great ride that is, at its worst, a fanciful tale posing as a biopic. Enjoy it for the great movie that it is.