Directed by Richard L. Lewis; written by Michael Konyves; based on the novel by Mordecai Richler (1931-2001).
Grating perpetually on my “audio” nerves or sensibilities are the colloquialisms that have invaded and tainted today’s vernacular: “like”, “you know”, “duh”, “hello ?”, “ya think ?”, and the legitimate seven letter word “awesome” (second to “amazing”). But viewing “Barney’s Version”, one of the finest films of the year, resonating, resounding in my consciousness was the reason the word is in existence; I was in awe for the entirety of this profoundly acted, flawlessly filmed story of a gifted, imperfect, loveable man, Barney.
Filmed in flashback we witness a tragically funny individual reviewing his life through his three doomed marriages; a life marinated in alcohol. How different the outcome if Bacchus had not been his ultimate partner, soul mate. Paul Giamatti (Golden Globe winner) as Barney gives a galvanizing performance saturated with powerful poignancy, heart- wrenching vulnerability; his histrionics, hubris, profligacy legitimized by his unwavering sense of righteousness. The comedic slowly evolves, dissolves into the tragic.
Barney’s wives performed magnificently by Rachelle Lefevre (1), Minnie Driver (2) and Rosamund Pike, the third, the paradigm of persistence wearing down resistance. They represent three phases of his journey, quest for personal harmony; never recognizing the wisdom of questioning, communicating with the voice or conscience within.
Dustin Hoffman as Izzy, Barney’s father, was a touch of magical genius by the casting director. Their scenes together are the most humorous, sensitive in the film; they complement each other; their love and respect is palatable, moving beyond the familial, into a pristine, playful friendship.
Supporting roles by Scott Speedman as Barney’s perpetually inebriated friend, Boogie, and the changelessly handsome Bruce Greenwood, Blair, add zest, vitality and genuineness to this courageous semi-autobiographical tableau.
Literary aficionados will be particularly intrigued by the reference to Saul Bellow (1915-2005) especially, “Herzog” (1964). Moses Herzog and Barney Panofsky share the intellectual alacrity, angst and vicissitudes of their Jewish heritage; dysfunctional, failed marriages, thirsting for the unattainable; attributes their creators, Bellow and Richler exhibited.
The film is dedicated to the memory of Mordecai Richler (also “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz”), a Canadian, eternally aware of his Jewish ancestry. There are a few scenes in the commencement of the film that reminded me of Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” (1969) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (1973); what could have been problematic was avoided by the adroitness and sagacity of the author and filmmakers.
Paul Giamatti’s portrayal echoes his female counterpart, dealing with the same subject, Julie Christie in the 2007 “Away from Her”; immortal performances, providing audiences with the tangible evidence of the wizardly, alchemy required, demanded of great actors.
FOUR & 1/2 STARS!!!!