George Clooney's stylised spy drama based on the unreliable memoirs of Gong Show host Chuck Barris

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DIRECTED BY George Clooney

STARRING Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Rutger Hauer

Opens March 14, Cert 15, 113 mins

“My name is Charles Hirsch Barris, I have written pop songs. I have been a television producer. I am responsible for polluting the airwaves with mind-numbing puerile entertainment. In addition, I have murdered 33 human beings.”

Chuck Barris was the inventor of The Dating Game and The Gong Show. He also claims to have been a CIA hitman. His bizarre autobiography, filmed here by George Clooney (for Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s Section Eight production company) interweaves two aspects of the American post-war story?happy, crappy light entertainment and murderous black ops?to suggest not just a personal but a national schizophrenia. As a film, this is a hugely impressive showcase for Clooney’s skills and those of four actors at the top of their game. It’s also probably the first and last movie about a game show host-cum-assassin. Until The Les Dawson Story gets made, anyway.

Barris (Rockwell) starts the story of his “wasted life” with the day he cons his way into a job in TV and persuades someone to let him make The Dating Game. After making some changes?”We can’t have black men getting blow jobs on television”?it’s a hit. Soon afterwards he gets approached by CIA fixer Jim Byrd (Clooney) to join the Company. Initially Barris resists the idea?”I’m not killing people, my future’s in television!”?but before long he’s a fully trained-up hitman, chaperoning the show’s winning couples to specially-chosen romantic locations where he can slip off and do a spot of killing.

The story becomes fairly surreal and dreamlike at this point, raising the question?is this truth, lies or madness? When Russell Crowe imagined himself caught up in 1940s noir-style chase scenes in A Beautiful Mind, he was implicitly deluded. Here Barris’ exploits behind the Iron Curtain are part John le Carr