Adapted from Mordecai Richler’s fictional autobiography by Barney Panofsky, “Barney’s Version” tells the life story of a thrice-married Canadian soap opera producer suspected of murdering his best friend.
One fateful day Barney (Paul Giamatti) finds himself at loggerheads with his best friend, Boogie (Scott Speedman clearly having a blast playing a junkie skirt-chaser), an argument ensues, a gun goes off and the next thing we know, Boogie is dead. The cop who investigates his death can’t get Barney convicted so instead writes a book putting forth his case against him. Hence the inspiration for “Barney’s Version.”
Giamatti’s Panofsky a man by turns charming, arrogant and cruel, with a deep love of Monte Cristo cigars, 12-year-old Macallan and the Montreal Canadians. The way Giamatti develops from globetrotting bon vivant to soap opera impresario to a slow descent into old age is seamless, making the three-decades journey totally believable.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation of “Barney’s Version” is that Canadians—so famed for their unfailing manners—are anti-Semitic. Barney’s second wife, “Mrs. P (Minnie Driver), is the very essence of what was in a less sensitive time known as a “Jewish American Princess.” Driver unfortunately can’t hold the accent to save her life, as her inflection veers all over the place, only periodically hitting “Jewish,” and even then it’s “New York Jewish,” as opposed to whatever “Canadian Jewish” sounds like.
Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s dad, Izzie, a hard-drinking ex-cop with a million off-colors stories he’s eager to share with any audience, is hilarious, doing his best work in years—maybe decades (sad but true). And Rosamund Pike follows up her excellent turn in “An Education,” with another fine showing here. Though 31 in real life, Pike convincingly ages from her late 20s through some 30 years over the span of the film.
Sprinkled throughout the film are subtle clues to the “murder mystery,” but when it comes time for the reveal, director Richard Lewis and screenwriter Michael Konyves beat us over the head with it, serving up the answer twice in quick succession, just in case we missed it. Could it be that filmmakers are now just assuming their audiences are dumber than they?
Though “Barney’s Version” doesn’t quite merit the “let’s get this in theaters so it’s eligible for the Oscars” push, it is nonetheless a very good film featuring some fine performances.