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June 2011

Barney's Version

cast: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, and Paul Gross

director: Richard J. Lewis

134 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Universal DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Tony Hill

Barney's Version

No matter what others say, this is a love story pure and simple - but it also shows in a bittersweet way that, unfortunately, love does not conquer all. 'Barney' is Barney Pandofsky, a free-spirited, life-loving, politically-incorrect Canadian Jewish livewire captured in every detail in a wonderful performance by Paul Giamatti. Things seem to happen to Barney as he makes his way through life.

The Barney story starts in Italy where we find him drinking (to be a life-long passion) with friends of all sorts including Italian painter Leo (Thomas Trabacchi) and good friend - but a bit of a pain, Boogie (Scott Speedman). Barney now gets on the roller-coaster of marriage, which will dominate the rest of his life, by announcing his imminent wedding to beautiful hippie Clara (Rachelle Lefevre).

Returning to Canada, tragedy strikes Clara; and Barney is available again. Freewheeling along, spending good times in his favourite Montreal bar, Grumpy's, and watching (ice) hockey - mainly on TV, Barney looks the most unlikely marriage candidate but, at a 'do', he is introduced to wealthy, top-drawer (well, almost top-drawer) Jewish heiress (Minnie Driver), just dying to meet a potential husband.

Not put-off, or perhaps attracted by, the fact that Barney's father is an ex-cop, Barney and father, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman - who threatens to takeover the whole movie with a very dominating portrayal) are both invited to dinner with the parents of the potential bride at their very posh residence. Izzy's tales of the tough life of a Jewish cop don't go down too well with the uptight hosts. But not to worry, we soon have 'Mrs Panofsky #2'.

Barney's friends plus Izzy cause a few ripples at the wedding reception but even bigger ripples, in fact, a tidal wave strikes Barney. This event is a seminal moment in his life and the true love story begins. We follow the story from the first prickly steps, through heavenly times to relaxed mature days to...

Grafted on to this love story is a rather unreal mystery criminal element involving friend Boogie. To my mind, this just gets in the way of the true rambling narrative of Barney, his wives, his work in TV (arranged by 'father-in-law #2') and his developing character. The mystery, brought to our attention in a flash-forward episode at the start of the film, is resolved in an anticlimactic way at the end of the film. Better it wasn't there at all.

The movie is based on the book by acclaimed writer Mordecai Richler (to whom the film is dedicated, following his death in 2010) and the movie has a novel-like feel to it with emphasis on characters rather than plot. Screenplay and acting is wonderful with gentle Jewish humour (a particular favourite style of mine) thrown in. This is a pleasant, entertaining film about a basically nice man who couldn't quite keep control of his life. Perhaps that is its appeal.

The DVD has an interesting behind-the-scenes featurette incorporating interviews with all the leading actors - with the notable exception of Dustin Hoffman.



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