Barney’s Version

11 Feb

Title: Barney’s Version
Richard J. Lewis
Michael Konyves based on the novel by Mordecai Richler
Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Scott Speedsman, Dustin Hoffman
MPAA Rating:
R, language and some sexual content
134 min
Major Awards:
1 Golden Globe
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Barney’s Version was eligible for the 2010 awards season, but got its actual limited release only this year, so I’m counting it towards the 2011 rankings. But, for that, I already know that this film got Paul Giamatti a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Motion Picture, as well as it did receive a nomination for Best Makeup for the Oscars in a few weeks from now. So yeah, I guess I was sort of going into Barney’s Version with somewhat heightened expectations, at least for Mr. Giamatti’s performance. And he delivered, this is another amazing performance by a guy who always seems to be nothing short of remarkable. And the film itself, well it’s pretty damn good, too.

I’ve read the Mordecai Richler novel that serves as the source material for this movie, and I always imagined it would be a tough one to adapt, but you watch it unsprawl on-screen here, for over two hours, and everything just seems to fit perfectly. It’s not a perfect adaptation of the novel’s essence, but it’s very well done and quite thoughtful, and it really does work extremely well. But then again, with the level of talent involved in this film, I guess that shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise.

Joining Mr. Giamatti are three lovely ladies, one of them is Rosamund Pike, who we all probably remember best from her appearance as Miranda Frost in 007’s 2002 film, Die Another Day, but who has also been amazing in films such as An Education, Pride & Prejudice and last year’s Made in Dagenham. There’s also Minnie Driver, who’s awesome and was one of the main reasons for my love of The Riches. And Rachelle Lefevre also makes an appearance, this being the film that made her leave the Twilight franchise, something that was, I think, a good decision, because, sure, that franchise will definitely get her more attention because it’s insanely popular, but she’s already been in two of those films, and rode the wave of success it brought into a starring role on ABC’s Off the Map, and this film lets her show how good an actress she actually is.

There’s also two other male actors sharing the spotlight with Mr. Giamatti here. One of them is Scott Speedsman, a guy who I really like since his days on Felicity, and an actor that I can’t really get why he hasn’t exploded into much bigger stardom since those days, the guy is likable and has a very cool presence along with solid acting chops. And, last but certainly not least, we also have Dustin Hoffman here, who gives a stellar performance, full of energy and that dry humor that man can handle like few can, just amazing.

And I’ve done these two paragraphs listing the players we see in Barney’s Version so that you can see just how many amazing people were involved in this film, and when you see it you can fully appreciate just how much they all bring to the final product, it’s because of them that this one feels so damn amazing. But as amazing as all of these supporting performances may be, especially Mr. Hoffman’s, when you talk about Barney’s Version you’ll come back time and time again to Mr. Giamatti, who just owns the screen every frame he’s in.

For those of you who don’t know the story Barney Panofsky, the chain-smoking, bald-headed, heavy-drinking, hockey-fanatic, TV-producing slouch of a man, you’re missing one hell of a tale, and should buy the novel right about now. He’s just one seriously fun character to read and, thanks to Mr. Giamatti’s perfect impersonation, to watch. He plays him exceedingly well, he embodies all of these unlikable emotions to perfection, while also embedding in Barney that charm and sweetness that make the three lovely ladies I listed above find him desirable.

The story of Barney’s life is really amazing, we follow this character through many episodes throughout his life’s duration, and it’s all beautifully shot, masterfully acted and just impeccably told. The episodes in Barney’s life I won’t spoil, some are too delicious for me to take away the pleasure, but just see how his relationship with Miriam, Ms. Pike’s character, unfolds. It’s all wonderfully told, and just acted insanely well by Mr. Giamatti, who portrays this drunken mess of a man flawlessly, a sort of man he has made a career of playing, the kind of man who’s ordinary and yet fascinating. And it was also acted incredibly well by Ms. Pike herself, who’s beautiful and is just a perfect Miriam, a woman who was patient as can be with the man who fell in love with her the second he saw her and his own previous wedding’s reception.

Again, this isn’t better than the novel. But the novel was one I doubted could have been made into a successful film in the first place, the sheer fact that this was the result is something I’m still in awe of. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff in the novel that’s not here, not necessarily moments but complex emotions (the novel’s told by Barney), but with such an empowering lead performance by Mr. Giamatti, and stellar supporting ones from everyone else involved, the film achieves a very very solid adaptation, one that I’ll recommend to pretty much everyone.

Grade: B+


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