In order to explain why I liked this movie so much, I have to tell you that a) I have long been a big fan of The Gong Show; b) I think Sam Rockwell is one of the most entertaining screen actors around; and c) I have always liked the dramatic setup of a person living a normal life while secretly employed as a spy.
Since Confessions is an "autobiographical" account of Gong Show host Chuck Barris's supposed double life as a CIA assassin, I was predisposed to enjoy it, though that was tempered by my doubts about George Clooney's abilities behind a camera. Not that I have anything against him as a person, I just get skeptical whenever a movie star decides he wants to direct. So I was very much surprised by Clooney's confidence with staging for camera as well as how he works with his cast.
Confessions is a vibrantly stylish and creative film. It is also a very dark and strange film, perhaps the most intentionally twisted offering from a Hollywood studio in 2002. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation) was a natural choice to adapt Barris's book, being as it is a murky mix of truth and fantasy as well as a meditation on the indefinable nature of fame. It's one of those movies that I have trouble recommending to most people, though, as I wouldn't be surprised if many find it too silly, too serious, too oblique (how many people even remember Chuck Barris?) or just too weird. And it's not perfect: a number of comic scenes fall terribly flat.
Still, Rockwell, as Barris, is great in his first Hollywood leading role, Clooney is pleasantly restrained as his CIA contact, Julia Roberts is enjoyable enough in a change-of-pace role as a fellow agent, but it's Drew Barrymore who impressed me most with her mature and thoughtful performance. Some moments between her and Rockwell are unexpectedly moving. Unfortunately this film is buried under all the raves that the (in my opinion) inferior Adaptation is getting. But I say if you're in the right frame of mind, you'll dig Confessions.
Clooney gets extra points for having his late aunt Rosemary sing "There's No Business Like Show Business" during the closing credits, as well as for including a very funny and very well-used double star cameo (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as bachelor contestants on Barris's The Dating Game, both snubbed by the bachelorette for a fat loser).