Friday, 24 December 2010

Hey, Barney! Where's Miriam? Barney's Version Reviewed

I have never read Mordecai Richler's version of Barney's Version. I have read, heard and been told that it is one of the author's best and that it is a beloved tome. Well, it will be a while before the Toronto Public Library (TPL) informs me that my copy has arrived at my pick up location because right now I am 187th on the list of 187; the TPL has 45 copies. At over 400 pages, I didn't expect the screen adaptation written by Michael Konyes and directed by Richard J. Lewis to give me every single detail of the book, so I won't be surprised when I do get my copy of the book that some things did not make it to the screen.

The book and movie is about movie producer, Barney Panofsky, his relationship with his Dad, his three wives, and his two children; it also includes a gun shrouded in a past mystery. A tactless curmudgeon with a bit of the sad sack about him, Barney is played competently by Paul Giamatti, who over the past decade has gone from "That Guy" (remember him as a hostage in the Sam Jackson/Kevin Spacey flick, The Negotiator?) to Oscar-nominated actor. I expected Giamatti to be good, and I expected the same of Dustin Hoffman (Izzy Panofsky). Playing father and son, Giamatti and Hoffman are a tag team of insensitivity and brash humour. In a pivotal scene, Barney chases after Rosamund Pike's character, Miriam, on his wedding day, while father, Izzy (Hoffman)gets drunk and imposes himself on the wedding guests and the bride's (Minnie Driver) family.

I also expected British actress, Rosamund Pike (left) to be good. She's been in a few things, but I really noticed her as the ditsy blonde in An Education and as the under-appreciated brainy wife in, Made In Dagenham. She made an impression on my in both roles, so I was pleased to see that she had been cast in this film. What I didn't expect, and was thrilled to see, is how superbly she held her own in a film with Giamatti and Hoffman. In my opinion, she surpasses both men, displaying a range in acting that takes her from a young woman in her twenties to a middle age wife with grown children. Rather than relying on heavy make-up, someone made the wise choice to go light on the aging process and have Pike use her body and voice to project her progressive maturity as the film spans the decades. We know that Barney is drawn to Miriam. We are made very aware that she is his romantic focus whom he loves with a depth that he cannot show to anyone else in his life, and as such, we are drawn to her, too, but it is Pike's acting and what she brings to the role that locks in our attraction to her. I don't know who thought of casting her in the role, but kudos to them for giving her this chance to shine.

Barney's Version is a respectable film, with a respectable cast, but is it an excellent film? No. While it merits viewing because of the fine acting by Rosamund Pike, we have seen Giamatti and Hoffman play their respective roles before. I also felt as if I was watching an abridged movie rather than a complete film, despite the 132 minute run time. I don't know how the mystery of the gun plays out in the book, but in the film it seems like a made-for-tv plot point that just doesn't seem to work with the rest of the film. When I get the email from the TPL, I'll let you know what I think of Mordecai's version.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Film Opens December 24th

Photo Credit: Takashi Seida. eOne Pictures

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