For those that don't know it, this is the film adapted from the book by Chuck Barris, widely known as the host/creator/producer of "The Gong Show", as well as the creator and producer of numerous other TV shows in the 70's. Quite a character, Chuck was (well, is, he's still with us). However, according to his book, the 'unauthorized autobiography' of his life, not only was he those things, but he was also a contract killer for the CIA. Likely? Maybe. It's hard to really picture...but how much do you really know about the life of anyone you see on TV? For the moment, let's just take this as read, and talk about the film.
George Clooney makes his directorial debut here, and, as I said, I was impressed. His time in front of the camera seems to have taught him something about how to make things work, because this definitely worked. Let's hope he keeps going with the directorial thing, with similar results. He also acts, here and there, as Barris's CIA contact. The part is basically wooden until the last of his scenes, but that makes the character more believeable, so I wasn't disappointed.
Too major actresses play in the film, neither one someone I normally like. Julia Roberts tends to annoy the fuck out of me, with that smile that seems too big for her head, and her apparent inability to play a believable emotion. However, as a fellow assassin that Barris meets and subsequently falls in lust for, she did such a good job that I forgot to hate her...again, impressive. Drew Barrymore seems to never get any older, no matter how often I see her, Firestarter and E.T. notwithstanding. She tends to play mindless happy/stoned/dopey teen parts, all of which are vapid (the only thing I liked her in was Scream, simply because, 5 minutes into the film, she was hanging by her entrails). Here, though, as Barris's long-time and devoted girlfriend (and eventually wife) Penny, she turns in a performance that showed depth. OK, she still seemed happy/dopey half the time, but again, it was a BELIEVEABLE happy/dopey, and still gave the sense of the underlying emotion.
Brad Pitt and Matt Damon show up in the film, for about 10 seconds (no lines) as bachelors on the Dating Game. Good to see them and not hear them. Pitt looks funny in seventies fashions...'nuff said.
Musically (because I tend to notice these things), they chose some beautiful selections. I wish the soundtrack was released, but I don't see it. Still, it added a a lot.
Now then, back to the story. Is it true? Barris isn't confirming or denying anything he's said...and I think that is his last real laugh on the subject. He managed to get himself a last taste of stardom, knowing he had faded to nothing but a joke. It all certainly fits in with everything else...everything explained enough, nothing left hanging that made you go 'wait, that's not possible'. Sure, it screams of shadowy operatives and conspiracy...but the rest of the world does, too, so who cares? And even if it's just fiction, even if Chuck sat down with the intention of pulling off a huge prank, and the truth is that he's never even held a gun...it made for a good story.
More importantly, behind all the story, behind the allegations of the 33 people he's killed, behind the madness and foolishness of TV-land, there runs, throughout the story, a deeper story. A story about a man, full of hope and dreams, a man who set out to do something, to BE something, and got so close he could taste it...and fell. Whether you buy the story, whether you CARE about the story, by the end of the film, you feel what he felt, you understand what he lost, and what he never gained. In the final scenes, as he is talking to Patricia (the fellow assassin), he looks up at her and says "I always wanted to say something that a lesser man would later quote...but I couldn't find a lesser man."
THAT said more to me than anything else...I felt that down to my core.
Anyway, see it. It's not what you texpect, but that's precisely why you should see it.