Newest Review: ... will spoil the film, but the basics of it are that you see the run of barneys life, through his career and his love life and his family. Ea... more
A Good Version for Barney
Barney's Version (DVD)
Member Name: TheChocolateLady
Barney's Version (DVD)
Advantages: Giamatti and Hoffman are wonderful, witty, interesting, creative, well directed
Disadvantages: Some small problems with the script but nothing major
'Barney's Version' is the story of Barney Panofsky, a very difficult, hot-headed man, who's made many mistakes in his life. Now, at 65 they're all coming back to him like boomerangs. As the movie opens, Barney is making a drunken, middle of the night, nasty phone call to his ex-wife's new husband. From there, the film progresses through flashbacks to reveal over 40 years of Barney's pitfalls and highlights, in a carefully directed and perfectly acted character study that will make you laugh and cry.
On the surface, Barney isn't a very likeable person. He's a chubby, not very good looking, a heavy drinker, foul-mouthed, and sometimes shows more interest in hockey than concern for the things and people around him. However, we can understand him because he's not simply fallible, he's human. More than this, underneath it all, there's something there we can admire - because he's nothing, if he's not consistent. In addition to this, his intelligence and wit make him interesting, and ultimately charming in an off-beat way. Still, there are times when you just want to slap the guy. In short, we get a truly three dimensional character living in a world we can believe is real. All this points to a script that is witty and intelligent and heartwarming to boot.
Bringing all this to the screen may sound like a tall order, and yet it succeeds on almost every level, with a cherry-picked cast. To start, Giamatti (who was just nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal here) is absolutely perfect in this role as the guy who you'd never figure would get women as beautiful as he does, but there you have it. Add to this Dustin Hoffman hysterically funny portrayal of Barney's father Izzy who is even brasher than his son, and sometimes downright rude, and you realize that the apple didn't fall all that far from the tree. We also get Minnie Driver as Barney's second wife, doing a lovely job playing a rich "Jewish Princess" who thinks far too highly of herself. Special mention should go to Scott Speedman playing the part of Barney's writer friend Boogie. Scott was in the "Underworld" films but I know him best as the actor who played Ben Covington, one of the love interests in the TV series "Felicity". Speedman brings in a marvelous performance of this drunken druggie who cannot finish his novel, and ends up missing after he sleeps with Barney's 2nd wife. While the Golden Globes ignored this, perhaps the Academy won't, and I'd say Speedman deserves at least one nomination for best actor in a supporting role for this.
There are other elements of this film that make it exceptional. For instance, there are little things such as a scene where Barney's 2nd wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike) sees Barney crying while chopping onions, and tells him he should put them in the freezer to prevent that. Later in the story we see Barney go into the freezer and he sees there one, lone onion. The look on Barney's face when he sees this is extremely revealing and yet, you don't fully understand that look until later on in the film. This is the type of thing that attests to not only an amazing script but also direction from Richard J. Lewis that is controlled and balanced. The only other drawback here is a missing thread to run throughout the film. From what I've been lead to understand, the title of the book this film is based on refers to a cold murder case, and the cop that tries to pin it on Barney his whole life long, and the story is basically Barney's version of what really happened. While this comes into play in the movie, it isn't used in enough places to make us fully understand Barney's motivations for enough of his actions.
In addition, this film is also visually beautiful, set mostly in Montreal, with parts in Rome and New York. Even the soundtrack has significance as songs played were chosen because of their lyrics in order to further the story and not just as background additions. Finally, I can't ignore the way they aged these characters which was so delicately done as to seem totally natural - although I am thinking that Giamatti may have gained/lost weight for some parts of the movie. If not, this was all the more expertly done, since we really feel the age differences on him.
In short, this is one of those movies that you really hope gets much wider screening than just a bunch of film festivals. There's so much to like and little to fault it. The script, with its lone drawback, sparkles with humor and emotion, perfectly cast and carefully directed with all the auxiliary elements bringing everything together into one well-rounded experience. With all that, I will give it four stars out of five and highly recommend it.
Davida Chazan © December, 2010
This isn't yet available on DVD in the UK, and is due to be released in the UK theaters only on January 28, 2011.
However, you can get the book new from Amazon for £5.58 or from their marketplace from £1.50.
Summary: Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman star in this fascinating film version of a Mordechai Richler story.