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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Barney's Version

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4_Chicks_SmallJacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Barney’s Version

Barney needs his own version of events because it’s hard to evoke a lot of sympathy for the man and his life choices.  He’s caustic, spiteful, hedonistic and selfish.  Despite this, he garners three attractive women to consent to marry him (under wildly different circumstances) and proceeds through life with a cigar in his mouth and a single malt scotch in his hand.

Flashbacks beginning in 1974 reveal a younger Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) in Rome with his pleasure-seeking friends and pregnant wife, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre).  Best friend Bernard (Scott Speedman) is a partner in crime, booze-soaked, mischievous and as supportive as he can be during Barney’s disastrous first marriage.

Wife number two (Minnie Driver) comes from a wealthy Jewish family and has a Master’s degree.  Barney is attracted to her for maybe two seconds before, astonishingly, he meets the woman of his dreams, Miriam (Rosamund Pike) at his own wedding reception and follows her onto a train, still dressed in his tux.  Eventually, Miriam becomes wife Number Three.

The film is set in Montreal and ice hockey is featured as one of Barney’s passions.  Barney’s cop dad, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) is a crude bon vivant that gives us a glimpse into how the wise-ass, ice hockey aficionado Barney got that way as well.  Set in Montreal, hockey is the national pastime of Canada in the way that sarcasm and irony become Barney’s constant companions.

He’s a flawed, indiscreet TV executive with a company named Totally Unnecessary Productions, cranking our hokey soap operas laden with double entendres.  A detective (Mark Addy) suspects him of killing his best friend.  He never remembers where he parked his car, or sometimes how he arrived at a place.  Events (and eventually, his mind) unravel slowly but purposely toward an ending that punctuates the last sentence with the ultimate period.

This is Paul Giamatti’s film from start to finish, and he pulls off the swaggering, cynical, sometimes sincere pessimist with varying doses of vinegar and honey.  Barney is a complex character that can elicit a grudging sympathy even when he’s at his most prickly, and that is Giamatti’s unique gift to the viewer.

Scott Speedman is the universally recognizable burned-out party boy, courting fun without consequence as a way of life.  Minnie Driver puts on a maxi mouth and proves she can convincingly add obnoxious and demanding to her acting repertoire, and I mean that with admiration.

The serene Rosamund Pike is a perfect foil to Barney’s impetuous volatility, and makes us believe he can be tamed, if only for a while.

Dustin Hoffman, fresh from Little Fockers, maintains the brash, blunt, shock-a-minute, loudmouthed persona that he’s come to embrace.  Always likeable, Hoffman doesn’t have to try so hard to make an impact and perhaps future performances will allow him to be more subtle and less bawdy.  His son, Jake Hoffman, also makes an appearance as Barney’s son, Michael.

Director David Cronenberg makes a cameo appearance as a director on Barney’s soap set.

Director Richard J. Lewis (TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) had to condense voluminous material from the Mordecai Richler (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) novel of the same name.  Screenwriter Michael Konyves (Fir and Ice, TV series) keeps the humor on the snide side with just a touch of sentimentality for garnish.

The book’s title refers to passages written by Barney’s son, who gives his version of some of the events.  That avenue is not explored in the film, but you may have your own version of who Barney is after viewing his exploits in life and love.

Whether that version is better or worse or matches exactly is entirely up to you.  It’s not like Barney’s going to care.

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