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Barneys Version
Genre Drama
 
Review:

Paul Giamatti is Barney Panofsky, the title character of Barney's Version, a biographical dramedy based on the novel by Mordecai Richler about an impulsive, rude yet endearing TV producer. After watching Barney's Version, it's difficult to imagine anyone else doing the part justice. Giamatti is fascinating to look at, charming enough to win our hearts and funny enough to keep us laughing. Audiences love watching characters, who while flawed are essentially good when it comes down to it. We relish it when they get themselves in trouble, think Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm and are relieved when they manage to rescue their reputations, think Kelsey Grammer as Frasier.

IMDB's synopsis sums up Barney's Version quite succinctly as "The picaresque and touching story of the politically incorrect, fully lived life of the impulsive, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky." However, the summation doesn't convey the angle of the biography, which is fueled by his love life and a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a close friend. Barney's mental state is a reflection of his complicated love life and this makes the character development all the more intriguing as each new lover chips away at his hard shell.

Paul Giamatti is the kind of movie star... that wouldn't want us calling him a "movie star". Keeping it real... doing it for the art, whatever you want to call it, Giamatti knows how to immerse himself in a role without any qualms about being unlikable. In Barney's Version, the actor has embraced his complex character, connecting with his flaws, passionately losing himself in anger, humiliation and regret. Giamatti looks like a comedian, sporting a pretty ordinary mugshot that helps the reality sink in. He's sincere, convincing and consistently so... whether he's portraying a comedic role like Panofsky, Harvey Pekar in American Splendor or Miles in Sideways.

Naturally gifted with timing and line delivery, he's the tenacious underdog, the guy who doesn't give a damn what you think. Barney's Version is perfect vehicle for him to showcase his talent, delivering great comedic acting and exhibiting great dramatic fortitude - echoing performances like that of John Adams in the acclaimed TV series. The film leans quite heavily on Giamatti's performance with longtime TV director Richard J. Lewis composing a straightforward, yet stirring portrait of a cynical lover of life.

Barney's Version is Giamatti's movie, but not without a little help from his friends in Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver and Dustin Hoffman. Pike injects her calculated presence into the film, a love interest - she's the perfect woman for Barney, beautiful, enigmatic and reasonable. Driver delivers a larger-than-life performance of a Jewish princess, while Hoffman nearly steals the show giving as good as he gets from Giamatti as his father. In many ways, the two actors are similar and it's fantastic to see the short, sharp bursts of father-son chemistry between the two.

Clocking in at just over two hours, Barney's Version is a fascinating character study delivered in a series of stories going back-and-forth in time. The film weaves a compelling yarn of achievement, character flaws and reflections in an entertaining fashion - all glued together by an excellent turn by Giamatti and his supporting cast. The film comes through like a wave of nostalgia infused with life lessons - expressing joy and regret in an unpredictable swagger. However, one can't help but feel that it would be much more ordinary without the first-rate ensemble.

The bottom line: Engaging.

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