Barney’s Version, by director Richard J. Lewis, tells the story of Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti); a self-involved, smoking, drinking, blunt man who happens to love one woman… a woman he met on the night of his wedding. When we first meet Barney he is 65 years old, alone and in his apartment making calls to his ex-wife at 3am in the morning.
Throughout the film the viewer is introduced to how Barney got to this stage. Being a young man in the 1970’s he is out in Rome, where he gets a girl pregnant and, being a faithful Jewish man, he does what he believes is right and marries her. Sadly the baby is still born and it is then revealed Barney’s friend was the father. He is then offered a television production job in Canada and is introduced to his second wife; a controlling, sheltered and pampered Jewish princess (Minnie Driver). On the night of his wedding, whilst contemplating punching his new father-in-law, Barney sees a vision and this vision is Miriam (Rosamund Pike). It is from this single moment that Barney falls in love.
Barney then makes it his aim to pursue Miriam, even while still married, until eventually he catches his best friend in bed with his wife and then divorce conveniently makes it all possible. Miriam falls for Barney and the two soon get married and set upon their life together, however Barney always lives his life to the full and sometimes he forgets exactly how good he has it.
The film is constructed of scenes from the past and present using memories woven into current events. Paul Giamatti creates a fantastic character in Barney who will divide the audience’s feelings. He has the mixture of impulsive and hopeless exactly right, being an actor who carries a lot of emotion in his eyes.
Dustin Hoffman plays Barney’s father and he provides the comedy. There is little to laugh about in a film of this context, however Hoffman provides the light relief in playing a widower who is an ex-cop and certainly likes the ladies. His fatherly advice and wise-cracks bounce in the melancholy air that his son somehow seems to have around him.
While Paul Giamatti’s performance stands out among all the others, Rosamund Pike is refreshing as Miriam. She is certainly the calm to Barney’s storm and this is why they attract each other. Pike plays Miriam as softly spoken and reserved, being very lady-like and oozing decorum and sophistication.
The setting, costumes and make up are brilliant with the techniques used to age the characters are some of the best seen in recent films. Barney’s Version is a great film for some therapy; it is tragic, it’s upsetting, but it’s an insight into life.
Best scene: When Barney finds out his father has passed away and he goes and finds him.
Best line: Barney: ‘This is the paternal wisdom I’m gonna get?’
Watch this if you liked: Sideways, Lost in Translation