Dir: Richard J Lewis
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Bruce Greenwood, Scott Speedman and Rachelle Lefevre
As you might have guessed from the title, Barney’s Version tells the story of a man named Barney (Paul Giamatti). We first meet him as an older man, he works in television production and from what we can tell he is living alone. Something from his past comes up in a newspaper article, and we are taken back to the 70’s and experience the past 30 years of Barney’s life and what led him to this point.
During the first flashback, we find Barney in Italy with his friends including Boogie (Scott Speedman), Leo (Thomas Trabacchi) and Cedric (Clé Bennett). It seems Barney is going to marry Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), as she assures Barney that he was the one who knocked her up. They do indeed get married, however we see things go sour and before long Barney is being introduced to his soon to be second wife (Minnie Driver). It is at their wedding that Barney meets the love of his life Miriam (Rosamund Pike), and this causes him to want to end things as easily as possible with his new bride. It is through a series of events that not only does this marriage come to an end but Boogie goes missing and a detective (Mark Addy) accuses Barney of murder. Without a body, nothing really happens and Barney is free to marry Miriam. It is upon this relationship that he experiences happiness in his life but also suffers from his inner demons.
This is an outstanding film, it works on so many levels and it never becomes one of those films that purposely tugs at the heart strings to make you care. We care because we get invested with Barney and his story, with the people around him and the crazy things that he does. Barney was the perfect character for Paul Giamatti, and in turn he was perfect for the character. It is something amazing when the casting just really fits together so well, and because of this the film really comes together. Giamatti is such a fantastic actor, he has this natural charisma that just draws people in. He managed to portray Barney at many different ages, going through different stages in his life, without skipping a beat. There was just something ‘there’ with the character and with how Giamatti played him, that you could understand why these women fell for him, and his friends stayed with him.
The rest of the cast are also very solid, with the other stand out being Rosamund Pike as his third wife. From the first moment we (and Barney) see her, she looks absolutely stunning. Beyond her looks, she is a charming and caring woman, it is not difficult to also fall for her as Barney did. She tackled the performance with such grace, and such heart it really is just lovely. The chemistry between the actors was perfect for what the characters needed, they understood each other. I really enjoyed Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s father, it wasn’t an over the top performance as I initially thought it might be, but it was really of a well meaning father who loved his son. Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver and Rachelle Leferve were all really good as well and stood out in their roles.
The film goes into some interesting and sad territories which I will not discuss here, as I will leave you the viewer to discover those. I have not read the book, but after the film I really would like to track it down and give it a go. Barney’s Version is a near perfect film, it gets so much right and it is an emotional experience. Giamatti well deserved his Golden Globe win for this performance, and the film deserves all the praise it has gotten. My hat goes off to Richard J. Lewis for directing this with such heart and beauty, and to the team behind the make-up effects, they were just flawless. You owe it to yourself to see this film.
The Australian DVD
Audio/Video: The copy I reviewed was a screener disc.
Extras: The DVD release will come with one additional extra, a Behind the Scenes feature. It is only a short one, but it offers a little bit of in-sight into the film. A commentary and a feature on the make-up process would have been great to see, but what we do get works just fine.
Thanks to Simone at Hopscotch for the copy.