Barney’s Version (short review)

There are movies like this week’s Oscar front-runner The King’s Speech (2010), where very early into the film, you know what it is and where it is going and you enjoy it from the first minutes. Then there are movies like Barney’s Version (2010), which slowly suck you into the story and then takes you in unexpected directions.

From the reviews and previews, I knew going in that the movie starred Paul Giamatti as the Barney in the title and had something to do with following his life through three marriages. IMDb describes the movie as a “picaresque and touching story” about “Barney Panofsky, a hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, foulmouthed 65-year old hockey fanatic and television producer, as he reflects on his life’s successes and (numerous) gaffes and failures.” And the movie starts off that way and I went along, because I always enjoy Giamatti. There were little surprises in the movie, some of which you discover early on, such as a police officer who thinks Giamatti committed a murder. But the real turning point in Barney’s Version, which is based on a novel by Mordecai Richler, comes nearer the end when the movie heads in a different direction in a way that happens in real life.

Like co-star Dustin Hoffman, Giamatti is always an interesting actor to watch. There are moments in many of his movies where I am blown away by his fine acting, such as in an ordinary scene in American Splendor where he is talking to one of the movie’s oddball characters in a car. Nothing special happens in the scene, but Giamatti is so comfortable in the character it blurs the line between acting and real life. Similarly, there is an emotional scene in Barney’s Version between Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, playing his third wife, that that is understated and cuts to the bone of reality. Although Giamatti was not nominated for an Oscar, he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy for this performance.

I am not going to ruin the movie for you by saying anything more, and you should not expect a big twist ending, as the surprises are small scale. But if you are looking for a good smaller movie that is a character study after you have seen the big studio Oscar contenders, check out Barney’s Version, which is in theaters now.

What did you think of Barney’s Version? Leave a comment.

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