Barney’s Version – Review

Barney’s Version 

Directed by Richard J. Lewis. Starring Paul GiamattiMacha GrenonPaul GrossDustin HoffmanMinnie Driver.

This is a very unusual film which took me completely by surprise. About 1 hour into it I was actually ready to hate it. Then something must have happened about half way through because slowly (maybe too slowly) what was up until that point just an average comedy, turned into something quite different: a touching story, with a very powerful ending which I am sure will stay with me for quite a while.

Paul Giamatti is the real strength of “Barney’s Version”, a film which otherwise would have become a fairly forgettable ride. He somehow manages to turn the part of the obnoxious, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed, hypocrite and quite repellent television producer, Barney Panofsky, into a moving character right at the end, just when you’re ready to dismiss him. This is certainly one of the best performances of Giamatti’s career (and that says a lot, since he’s always been very good).

Having said this, 132 minutes spent in the company of someone like Barney who is so focused on himself, so smug would stretch anyone’s patience.

His actual character is virtually impossible to comprehend and in the end, despite being present for pretty much every single scene in the film,  he does remain a mystery (and i don’t mean it as a compliment). This is certainly not Giamatti’s fault but a combination of the script (adapted from a novel by the Canadian Mordecai Richler) and a bland direction (unsurprisingly Richard J. Lewis comes from TV from things like CSI, makes no attempt to bring any style or pace to the film).

The main problem, length aside, is that you never quite believe why so many attractive women could fall in love for the sweaty, drunken Barney. And yet, he does get married 3 times and has constant flings everywhere else too. At some point I even wondered whether Giamatti was really the best choice for this story (though he is so good that he almost gets away with it).

The whole first part of the film is probably the weakest. It is fairly episodic and tries too hard to be a comedy without being funny enough. There are too many subplots which feel too random and disjointed but also there are way too many supporting characters, most whom might have played better in the novel, but here they all feel too much like caricatures (the father in law, Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman among many), as the film barely scratches their surface.

Then, about 1 hour into the film, something quite big happens (I won’t tell you what it is, don’t worry) and from there onwards the film finally seemed to find its way and became more focused.

Rosamunda Pike enters the film  and the relationship between her and Giamatti takes the centre stage. I have  never been really crazy about Rosamunda Pyke, but in this film she’s really good and she definitely plays one of the her best part.

Slowly the film settles into what it really should have been from the beginning, a slightly more poignant and focused film about a guy feeling the weight of the guilt and regrets for the life he’s spent. The last act is heart-wrenching and probably the most original part of the film. Some people may find it a bit too heavy handled, especially since our emotional investment in the main character has been somewhat limited by his awful persona.

It really worked on me but I can see how somebody could argue it’s rather manipulative.

On a separate note, there some in-jokes cameo appearances by some of Canada’s most notable directors, for diehard movie geeks out there: these are mainly people who have worked for producer Robert Lantos (producer of Eastern Promises). Even David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan also turn up as directors of Barney’s TV show.

6.5/10

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