Oh, Paul Giamatti, I wonder how many films you could save just by being in them. I suspect many. I bet even M. Night Blahbity Blah had that in mind when he put you in Lady in the Water, despite that even your day-saving powers couldn’t help there.
Oh, Paul Giamatti, I wonder how many films you could save just by being in them. I suspect many. I bet even M. Night Blahbity Blah had that in mind when he put you in Lady in the Water, despite that even your day-saving powers couldn’t help there. Of course, Barney’s Version isn’t a film that needs saving, as it turns out. But you, Paul, were certainly a treat to watch.
Barney’s Version is about Barney Panofsky, a 60-some year old successful Canadian TV producer and hockey fanatic that drinks too much, loves a good cigar, tends to be politically incorrect, irascible, fearlessly blunt, and just happens to live fully and oft impulsively. Near the end of his life, he reflects on his successes, and his mistakes and failures, partiuclarly in regards to his three marriages.
I’m going to tell you right off that everyone’s performances in this are great. Probably the strongest point of the film. And each character has an arc. Each one of their lives change in some way. That seems rare to me. Giamatti, of course, is wonderful and deserves his Golden Globe for this, even though it was for a Comedy or Musical. Though there is much humor in this film, it does take quite a dramatic turn. I’ll get to that later.
Now when I say all the supporting actors were great, too, I mean it. Even Scott Speedman who plays Boogie, Barney’s drug-addicted, sometime writer, lothario, free spirit, best friend. Yes, I know. The guy that was the heart throb in Felecity. And the adequate-at-best guy in the Underworld films. THAT guy. He’s actually really good in this. I guess it was just the right role, because usually he’s like the B grade Keanu Reeves; he’s only right for certain things, like this. As a sub-plot here, after a drunken argument with Barney, Boogie falls in a lake and is never seen again. One officer in particular accuses Barney of murdering him.
There are some other great supporting people here. Dustin Hoffman plays Barney’s drinking, ex-cop Jewish dad, full of warmth and street level wisdom and color. Bruce Greenwood plays Blair, a friend of Barney and his third wife, Miriam. Also, this is like a who’s who of Canadian film people. Directors Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg have bit parts.
And just a brief note about the make-up. It’s excellent. The film takes place over the course of 30 years, and not once did I feel like I was actually looking at make-up. It’s incredibly natural all around. No visible prostetics or weird latex wrinkles. Not one person looks like that creepy guy in the Magic Mountain commercials. Awesome.
The only thing I might say against Barney’s Version is that there are a couple of plot points that don’t quite resolve in a satisfying way. This is a true-to-life sort of film, and sometimes things don’t get wrapped up all tidy. That might leave some people feeling a little empty. And some things leave you hanging until late in the film and it feels a little random. Also, despite this being mostly a comedy, the end surprised me by getting really sober and kinda sad. But at the same time, you really get to know these characters and you feel for them, especially Barney, who by all rights is clearly not a perfect person. But you love him anyway. Because Giamatti rules and he makes you believe in him.
Not a perfect film, but a much better than average one, for sure. If you are a Paul Giamatti fan, this is highly recommended as it’s worth it for his performance alone. Pretty close to four out of five Kittenhands here.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinking Paul Giamatti should wear a red cape with an “S” on it. 🙂