Written by Michael Konyves, based on the book by Mordecai Richler, directed by Richard J. Lewis, 134 minutes, rated R.
By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree
Adapted from Mordecai Richler’s novel, “Bareny’s Version” takes on the unenviable task of building some sort of sympathy for an otherwise completely unlikable character. Although not entirely successful in its efforts, the film has enough going for it to keep it afloat.
With the onset of Alzheimer’s, Barney Ponofski (Paul Giamatti), a Canadian TV producer, reflects on his life, which consists of three failed marriages, Barney’s suspected killing of his junkie friend “Boogie” (Scott Speedman), and loads and loads of booze.
Barney's first marriage is a spur-of-the-moment ceremony in Rome to a psychologically damaged hippy named Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), the second is an arranged marriage to the obnoxious Second Mrs. P (Minnie Driver), and the third is nothing short of paradise to his ideal partner Mirium (Rosamund Pike, brilliant).
But, as you get to know Barney through the first two marriages (he sabotages his second marriage to get to his third), you’ll quickly realize that this paradise just wasn’t meant to be for Barney. It can be frustrating to watch Barney tear down what he has just set up, but that frustration is generated through the honesty within the anatomy of each relationship -- if you can even call the first two “relationships.”
His friendships, judging by the aforementioned suspected murder, aren’t much better. Barney’s best friend Boogie is an untrustworthy junkie, whose body disappears after a heated argument with Barney, making him the only suspect. Director Richard J. Lewis weaves this plot point throughout “Barney’s Version,” maintaining the mystery the whole way through.
There are hints of darkness sprinkled in throughout the first two acts, but the film manages to generate some laughs, albeit somewhat off-color. Somewhere in the third act, however, the movie takes a weighty dramatic turn, and that’s where the film seeks some form of redemption for Barney. It’s a challenge, to say the least, for both the filmmakers involved and the audience.
It’s the cast that really keeps the movie’s head above water, though. Giamatti loses himself in Barney, the type of role the actor was born to play. He mixes the light and the dark, being neurotically charming at moments and emotionally exploding at others. Dustin Hoffman has a blast playing Barney’s cop father, and Rosamund Pike steals the show.
The performances alone make the film worth seeing.