Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Richard Lewis

Stars: Paul Giamatti, Rachelle Lefeve, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, Mark Addy, Dustin Hoffman, Scott Speedman.

Montreal based television producer Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is a mean-spirited and ungrateful so and so who has completely screwed over everyone he has ever met or cared about in his life. Or at least that is the opinion of a jaded detective (Mark Addy) who has written a vitriolic tell all boon in which he accuses Barney of literally having gotten away with murder. But Barney has his own version of events, and in a series of extended flashbacks we are made privy to over four decades of his life and his three failed marriages.

His first wife is Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), a free spirit he meets and marries in Rome. But the relationship is dysfunctional from the start and she eventually dies of an overdose in mysterious circumstances. He later marries the “second Mrs P” as she is known, an imperious and spoiled Jewish princess (played with style by Minnie Driver). But on his wedding day he spots Miriam (Rosamund Pike), a New York based radio host, and he declares her the love of his life. Although married, he continues to make overtures to her until he is free of his wife and marries her. Theirs is a happy and long lasting relationship until an indiscretion on Barney’s part drives a wedge between them.

But it is the disappearance of his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), a drug addicted wannabe writer, that continues to haunt him.

Barney’s Version has been adapted from the novel written by acclaimed author Mordechai Richler, who is best known for The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz, another story about the misadventures and getting of wisdom of a flawed Jewish character from Montreal. This is a sharply written mix of comedy and drama, laced with generous dollops of typically Jewish humour. This is the first feature film written by television writer Michael Konyves (Solar Strike, etc), and he finds it hard to compress Richler’s sprawling narrative into a two hour movie. However he keeps much of Richler’s acerbic humour and picaresque satire intact.

The movie has been directed by tv director Richard J Lewis, who is better known for helming episodes of hit tv series CSI. Thankfully though here he manages to keep the flashy visual style and kinetic energy of that series to a minimum. The film becomes a little overly sentimental at times, particularly towards the end as Barney is stricken with Alzheimer’s.

Giamatti (from Sideways, etc) is always good when playing sour, cantankerous curmudgeons, and here he has landed one of the best roles of his career. He seizes the opportunity with gusto, spitting out caustic barbs and invective as if they are going out of style. He is a deeply flawed character, but he is also something of a romantic at heart. And as is often the case, he is also an unreliable narrator, so we need to take his version of events with a grain of salt. Barney would be a thoroughly dislikeable character were it not for Giamatti’s complex and controlled performance that elicits a grudging measure of respect and sympathy from the audience. His recent win at the Golden Globes was thoroughly deserved! The best way to keep up with the shifting time frames throughout the film is to watch the changing styles of Giamatti’s hair-piece.

There is strong support from Pike, who is excellent as his patient third wife and soul mate, and Driver gives one of her best performances in years as Barney’s shrill second wife, with whom, he ultimately realises, he has little in common. And Dustin Hoffman is in fine form as Izzy, Barney’s father, a randy former policeman who offers sage advice but lacks any social graces. His slyly comic performance here makes us despair of how criminally wasted and underused he was with his reprisal of the character of Greg Focker’s father in the recent and disappointing Little Fockers. And look out for some quick cameos from famous Canadian directors like Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg and Denys Arcand.




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