Friday, 12 October 2012
One of the greater talents in the field of storytelling is the ability to turn a story that may appear dry and ordinary, when looked upon at the bullet point level, into something that is extraordinary and interesting. Barney’s Version is an attempt to do just that, an attempt that in this reviewer’s opinion it very much succeeded in.
We follow an elderly Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti). At the very beginning we learn that he’s divorced with kids, and through his harassments of his former wife’s lover we learn he’s quite jealous about it. We learn he owns a studio producing cheap crap soap operas, and that although bitter, at his core he seems to be a likeable guy. That is, Barney seems to be an ordinary person with his various shades of gray about him.
Things take a dramatic turn very quickly when our hero is faced with an old nemesis, an ex policeman who accuses Barney of being a murderer in the middle of an otherwise sympathetic pub. As Barney travels back home he reflects on his version of things, taking us on a voyage of flashbacks. Moving back and forth through Barney’s life, we learn of his first marriage, in Italy, to a woman he only cared for because he thought she’s bearing his child (but then got quite angry with when it turned out the father was one of his best friends). We learn how his Jewish family connections arranged the ideal second marriage for him with a loaded princess (Minnie Driver). And then we witness him fall in love at first sight on his wedding night with Miriam (Rosamund Pike), the subject of his phone harassments from when the film begun.
The above description does not do Barney’s Version justice. This movie features plenty of themes as it depicts its very round characters over long periods of time, themes such as racism, adultery, suicide and mental diseases. The story told here is a complicated one where I found myself cheering for different characters at different times. I’ll put it this way: it was a pleasure to find such a story getting such a well deserved treatment.
Acting is the other element that works together with the story to render Barney’s Version into the high quality film it is. There are some stellar performances here, starting with Giamatti’s. There is the usual standard of excellence from Dustin Hoffman, portraying the corrupt down to earth policeman that’s Barney’s father. The female supporting roles are not in any way inferior: both Driver and Pike are simply excellent, with Driver generating numerous laughs while Pike generates sympathy.
Add the story to the acting, free these actors from the artificiality that often surrounds movie productions featuring A list stars, and the result is a film that’s just good and enjoyable. All that despite the story appearing ordinary at first.
One of the things we quickly learn about Barney is that the guy is into sex. Thus some of Barney's Version better scenes revolve around sex, like Barney learning that he is not the father of his son by virtue of that son's skin color, which happens to match that of his best friend. Or like Barney, desperate to find a way to get rid of his wife (Minnie Driver) in order to focus on the love of his life, is absolutely delighted at catching the wife having sex with another best friend of his.
Those, however, do not get my vote for best scene. That vote goes to the scene where Barney meets Miriam for the very first time and falls in love with her on the spot. I loved it because it was so well done I could feel exactly what Barney is feeling and I could remember that overwhelming feeling love at first sight is like. Obviously, the fact the subject of Barney's attention is Rosamund Pike helps a bit. Regardless, the point is that Barney's Version allows its viewer to deeply identify with its hero, imperfections and all.
Overall: I highly recommend this life story. 4 out of 5 stars.