Wednesday, 21 September 2011

"Barney's Version" - A Review Of The 2010 Film Now On A 2011 BLU RAY.


"…Have I Ever Given Up When It Comes To 'You'…"

Sounding not unlike a child’s software program - "Barney's Version" is a terrible name for a film and nearly put me off renting this 'journey' movie – I'm glad it didn’t.

Produced by Robert Lantos and Directed by Richard Lewis, the screenplay by Michael Konyves is adapted from Mordecai Richler’s 1997 book of the same name. Across 30 eventful years, it tells the story of Barney Panofsky – a Monte Cristo smoking, whiskey guzzling chubby man living in Montreal. Barney is the TV Producing equivalent of "Gregory House" – irascible and loveable at the same time. Like his Dad Izzy Panofsky (a scene-stealing Dustin Hoffman) Barney tells it as it is – loves women impulsively – is headstrong in everything he does but has his heart in the right place. But he has a fatal flaw. It isn’t that Barney is deliberately cruel or mean, he just keeps on making terrible mistakes over and over again (most of which are of his own making) and learns rather painfully as the years pass and happiness fades that the enemy is not others but 'himself'.

It begins in Rome in 1974 when we’re introduced to his motley crew of dead-beat friends – there’s Thomas Trabacchi as Leo Fasoli – an Italian artistic genius who has yet to find an appreciative audience, a black friend who does a terrible deed on Barney (he later forgives this) and his best-friend – Boogie. Young, cocky, handsome and fancy-free – Boogie is a full-on babe magnet (played beautifully by Scott Speedman) who can’t seem to finish his brilliant first novel as he systematically hoovers up every narcotic he can get his sweaty hands on. You sense Barney admires his balls and vicariously lives out his fantasies through Bookie’s wanton bohemian lifestyle – but as life and the years go on – Bookie's drug addiction and stupid waste of a God-given talent stop being funny and even lead to a drunken catastrophe by the lake house.

We are then introducing to Barney’s three women – Clara, Bonnie and Miriam. Each of the actresses get real meat to work with and you can really sense they are relishing good parts in a good film. 1st up is Rachelle LeFevre playing Clara Chambers – a family dysfunctional who is beautiful but bordering on mental illness at every moment. Her performance is short but so astutely done. Barney then meets the equally gorgeous Miriam – a well-connected Jewish lady who can talk to beat the band (has a ‘Master’s Degree’) – dryly played by Minnie Driver to maximum effect. But then his eyes meet with the real deal – Miriam – played by the ethereally beautiful British actress Rosamund Pike. Barney is lost from the moment he sees her and pursues Miriam with the relentlessness of a Tomahawk missile. Their relationship’s up and downs make up the bulk of the movie and Pike is fabulous in the part. More top moments are provided by the rest of the cast...

Hoffman gets some great dialogue which he delivers in that soft understated way of his – regaling a table of elderly po-faced ladies at Barney’s 2nd wedding about his 'cop-on-the-beat' past he tells them "…he came at me with a hard-on the size of a can of hairspray…"
Or when he’s giving his son ludicrously inept parental advice about marriage to Bonnie (a subject he knows nothing about) "…you’re married to a well-bred woman who is loaded, makes a nice Flaky Kugel and has a beautiful rack – many successful marriages have been built on far less…"

Nice supporting roles also go Kate Hopkins and Jake Hoffman who play Kate and Michael (Miriam and Barney’s grown-up children) – Jake Hoffman showing more than a passing vocal and visual resemblance to his famous Dad - and glimpses of his acting chops. Bruce Greenwood is Blair – a handsome vegan who tempts Miriam both mentally and spiritually in the later stages of her rocky marriage to Barney - while Macha Grenon is superb as Solange - an aging TV star in the 30th season of Barney’s daytime soap “Malley Of The North” – a woman who constantly harks back to her looks in the past (her clinging neediness is both protected and derided by Barney in equal measure). England’s Mark Addy is excellent as Detective Sean O’Hearne – a bull-headed cop who is convinced that Barney has literally gotten away with murdering one his friends and has published a book to that effect called “With Friends Like These” (the mystery is brilliantly resolved at the end of the movie). There’s even a great cameo by Saul Rubinek as Clara’s Jewish father who tries to guilt away Clara’s self-destructive past – but not in a way that shows compassion - but embarrassment for what it brought to their family (Barney makes short shift of him).

But the film belongs to Giomatti - who gives his bumbling motormouth of a creation a beating heart – you laugh at Barney’s life-grabbing impulsiveness (a particularly nice scene where he chases after Miriam in a train) up to his heart-breaking remorse at doing what he said he would never do to Miriam (crying into her chest on the side of the bed). With the aid of wigs and make-up, Giomatti flits from one time period to the next – and in each his character is wholly believable. In rolls on to 2010 where Barney is now balding and forgetting where he parked his car – but gets one final meet with his beloved Miriam. They talk openly and honestly and despite differences and irreparable harm - express their true feelings (title above). Giomatti is magnificent in the role and fully deserved of his Golden Globes Award for Best Actor.

To sum up – while it’s a couple of shades short of being a masterpiece - “Barney’s Version” is that rarity – a really good film that you’ve neither seen nor heard of – a little filmic gem that deserves a viewing and will reward you for doing so.

Put it high on your rental list.

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