Every once in a while a film seizes you and won’t let go. Sometimes the film is not well publicized or well known. So it is with “Barney’s Version” centered on a dumpy producer of an awful soap opera. “Barney’s Version” is a forty year story of Barney’s chain of poor choices, his descent into utter boorishness, his apparent redemption, and even a murder according to a bigoted, vindictive Montreal detective (Mark Andy).
Barney Panofsky is a pudgy, profane, cigar puffing, scotch swilling, hockey loving, balding son of a Jewish cop in Montreal. As Barney, Paul Giamatti is brilliant. Not only does he appear in virtually every frame of the movie, but his dazzling performance makes you reach out to an otherwise distasteful character. Dustin Hoffman is Barney’s dad, Izzy, a retired cop who reflects on the serious side of life even as he interweaves some dizzying touches of humor. The interplay between Barney and Izzy is sheer wonder. In flashback we learn that Barney lived the Bohemian life in Rome in the 70’s amidst some writer/artist pals and hookers. His troubled Italian first wife (Rachel LeFevre) commits suicide, and Barney goes back to Montreal where he meets his second wife – spoiled, rich, stereotypical, and well played by Minnie Driver. As Barney and his unnamed second wife are in the midst of their wedding reception, Barney’s eye wanders to Miriam Grant, beautiful, gifted, and completely captivating. Barney is instantly smitten, and runs out on his own reception to pursue her. Eventually his marriage to wife number two collapses and Barney apparently succeeds in finally finding a loving relationship. He marries Miriam (played exquisitely by the elegant Rosamund Pike who transforms Miriam into the most appealing character in the film). Their relationship is brilliantly portrayed.
Things change upon a visit from one of Barney’s old pals from his days in Rome. Boogie (Scott Speedman) appears, and that results in disaster. There’s a puzzle in the ending, and it challenges the viewer to figure it out. Above all, this is a great example of how a bittersweet story can capture you in spite of the central character’s many faults and weaknesses.
Most of the movie was shot in Montreal, and even has cameo parts for some well known Canadians. Even with a number of faults this is an outstanding movie, and the real mystery is why it was barely publicized or even known. In fact, it’s remarkable that Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe with so little exposure.