Barney’s Version tell the story of Barney Panofsky, a balding, overweight American Jew who drinks too much, smokes too much, and yet manages to find beautiful women who agree to marry him.
The movie plays out largely in flashback. We first learn that Barney has a suspect past when he is confronted by a Detective in a bar – a Detective who is clearly frustrated that Barney is still a free man in spite of his attempts to get him convicted for murder. This is the trigger for a flashback to the story that leads Barney to that point – beginning just before his first marriage; a marriage featuring a wedding ceremony that probably qualifies as the most un-romantic in history.
Barney is played with great effect by Paul Giamatti, an actor who divides opinion in the Haines household. I think Paul Giamatti is outstanding whereas Rachelle finds him annoying. But maybe that’s because I, unlike Rachelle, saw and loved Sideways and the incredible HBO series – John Adams. It was great performances in these that have led to him, with justification, getting lead parts where previously he would only get supporting ones.
Barney is likeable as a character, yet it feels wrong to like him. After all, this is someone who leaves his own wedding reception to pursue a woman he’s just met at said wedding reception. What is it that gets three women to agree to marry him? Maybe it’s the same charm that makes you like him despite his considerable flaws. This is a man who seems to have no filter for his words or actions; he acts impulsively, seemingly without thought of the consequences to those close to him.
Barney’s third wife, Miriam, is played by Rosamund Pike – the posh British ‘totty’ who most notably, for Bond fans such as myself, played Miranda Frost in Die Another Day. She also had key roles in An Education and Made in Dagenham, both remarkable movies fully deserving of the positive critical reviews they received.
Miriam is mesmerising, Far too good for Barney. When she finally succumbs to his charm you’re left wondering whether she actually likes him or has just given in to his persistence. The question is quickly put to rest as you see their life together progress in the final stages of the film. You’re also left wondering why she puts up with him. Barney has supposedly found the love of his life yet this doesn’t manage to halt his course of self-destruction.
There’s some great supporting characters too. Dustin Hoffman can be credited with a lot of the movie’s laughs. He plays Barney’s father – a loveable rogue and serial philanderer, who leaves no doubt as to the lineage of Barney.
To complete the package, Barney’s Version has a great soundtrack, featuring Jazz classics from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Leonard Cohen, as well as 70’s music befitting the first half of the film.
I loved Barney’s Version. The story is funny, moving at times, and thoroughly engaging. What’s more, there’s a ring of truth to the scenes; where even the most innocuous moment seems recognisable. Anyone who has had an argument, lied, or been lied to, will recognise the body language and eye movement; the sub-conscious human traits that mark the performance of great actors.