By: Oberst von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Paul Giamatti is Barney Panofsky, a Jewish film producer working in Montreal, where he is famous for his company “Totally Unnecessary Productions”, which is responsible for churning out low budget soap operas.Barney’s Version explores thirty years of his life, his three failed marriages, and endless regrets.
Based on the 1997 novel of the same name, Barney’s Version is a textbook example of how to capture the feel of a book on film.Told in a non-linear fashion, the film poses questions for you early on that will catch you off guard, but draw you deeper into the story as it unfolds.At times the mood is often sardonic, other times poignant, sometimes both, such as the second wedding scene where Barney defends his vulgar but well meaning father (Dustin Hoffman, in a tremendous comedic turn).
Eventually, a murder plot develops that serves as the film’s MacGuffin.
This b-plot serves to drive the events of the second act and ultimately enriches the story so as to distinguish it from recent “quirky dramedies” that have been released.When the mystery is finally solved, it is a moment of darkly humorous catharsis that has to be seen to be believed.
Paul Giamatti gives yet another stunning performance as Barney, who might be one of the more fully formed characters in recent films.He is a flawed personality, though he often takes the moral high-ground in his own mind.He is often being selfish, even if he doesn’t know it.Barney is a man who is capable of great love, but also prone to inopportune jealousy, which can butt his otherwise logical mind.
Some have criticized the film for making Barney unlikable, but I don’t understand that conclusion.I would hazard a guess that everyone would appear less than sympathetic if their life story was told, warts and all.To me, it makes his character more real, and given his life experience his character flaws are understandable, if sometimes unforgivable.It is a shame this film didn’t get more notice from the academy (though the nomination for makeup effects is more than deserved; it features some of the most convincing ageing makeup I’ve seen).I wanted to find an excuse for another beer, but couldn’t.The more I think about Barney’s Version, the more I realize how masterful a work it is.
Pour your glass with pride, and toast the first great film of 2011 (well, hitting most theaters in 2011, anyway).
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: at every Jewish joke
Take a Drink: every time Barney is suddenly years older
Down a Molson: every time Canada’s favorite Mountie Paul Gross appears on screen