Friday, March 09, 2012

Barney's Version

Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is the story of a man telling his own life story that includes three marriages where it also involves the disappearance of his best friend. Directed by Richard J. Lewis and adapted into script by Michael Konyves, the film explores a man’s life through different time periods as he tries to recall what happened in those years. Starring Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Leferve, Bruce Greenwood, Scott Speedman, and Dustin Hoffman. Barney’s Version is a charming yet mesmerizing film from Richard J. Lewis.

TV producer Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) has just learned a book about his life and his involvement in the disappearance of his best friend/novelist Bernard “Boogie” Moskovitch (Scott Speedman) had just came out. Going into his favorite bar in Montreal, Barney deals with retired police investigator O’Hearne (Mark Addy) who remains convinced that Barney killed Boogie. For Barney, he recalls about his life dating back to the early 70s when he and Boogie were in Rome as Barney was to marry a young hippie woman named Clara (Rachelle Laferve) whom he had just impregnated. Things got crazy when Clara turns out not to be the person she claims to be as he returns to Montreal to work for his uncle in the TV business where he would meet the woman (Minnie Driver) who would become his second wife.

After meeting her more uptight and wealthy family and introduce his father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) to her family, Barney seems to be ready for another marriage he realizes he’s not in love with this woman. At the wedding, Barney sees a woman named Miriam (Rosamund Pike) as he falls for her as they briefly meet as she returns to New York City. Stuck in a horrible marriage with his second wife, Barney takes the strung-out Boogie to a weekend in the cabin where the wife also shows up. The weekend turns out to be a disaster as Barney is hung up on Miriam as he seeks advice from his father. After a drunken argument with Boogie that would lead to Boogie’s disappearance, Barney tries to deal with what happened as he gets divorced and then pursues Miriam as the two fall in love, get married, and gain two kids in Michael (Jake Hoffman) and Kate (Anna Hopkins).

During a trip to the country, Barney meets a man named Blair (Bruce Greenwood) who would eventually get Miriam a job working at a radio station interviewing authors including Barney’s old friend Leo (Thomas Trabacchi). Barney becomes suspicious of Miriam’s friendship with Blair as she goes away to visit Jake in New York where he would endure loss as well as his own screw-up. Just as the continuing investigation of Boogie’s death some more than 30 years after it happened, Barney tries to come to terms with everything he had dealt with in his life.

The film explores a man’s life as he recalls his memories of the past 35 years of his life as he would be married to three different women where his third wife would be the love of his life. Also told is a man’s friendship with a strung-out writer who is trying to catch a break where he would suddenly disappear leading to all sorts of questions. All of this told via long flashback sequences as an aging Barney deals with the past following the release of a new book about what happened on that day as he comes to terms with loss and everything else he’s dealt with. Michael Konyves’ script revolves around that narrative structure where it moves back and forth from the past to the present to dwell into Barney Panofsky’s life.

The script reveals Barney as a guy who is willing to fall in love with any kind of woman as he deals with the heartbreak over his first marriage that involves a lies and horrifying circumstances. In his second marriage, he thought he would find someone to be with only to find out that his second wife is a vapid and greedy woman who comes from a rich family as she turns out to be demanding. Notably as she would play part into the disappearance of his best friend Boogie who was in need of help due to his own substance abuse. Then there’s Miriam, the love of his life as she is a woman that represents everything Barney wants and more. She is kind, unselfish, and intelligent as she is also her own woman who doesn’t fall for Barney immediately but she is this woman that would ground and care for him.

Another relationship that is key to the film is Barney’s relationship with his father Israel who is also called Izzy. Izzy is a guy who provides a lot of humor to the film while hoping to get laid as he has already lost his wife. Yet, he would be the one person to guide Barney into the tribulations of his life until the third act when he’s not around and Barney becomes lost leading to a breakdown of his marriage as well as his entire life. While the third act is a bit drawn out than it should’ve been as it would also involve a very dramatic plot device. The script is still superb for the way it fleshes out its characters as well as playing to its narrative structure.

Richard J. Lewis’ direction is superb for the way it explores the drama as it includes some great scenes where Lewis would have the actors be placed into a frame or how he would direct a key dramatic moment without going overboard. With a lot of the film set in Canada along with a few scenes in Rome, Lewis manages to invest into getting inside this man’s life. While a lot of the direction is straightforward, it is still engaging in these subtle dramatic moments such as Barney and Izzy’s visit to the grave of Barney’s mother where it would also involve some light-humorous moments. Overall, Lewis creates a very solid and dramatic film tracing a man’s life and the loves he had in his life.

Cinematographer Guy Dufaux does an excellent job with the film‘s stylish cinematography from the lush look of Rome to the more straightforward yet entrancing exteriors for the nighttime scenes in Montreal. Editor Susan Shipton does a nice job with the editing as she emphasize in mostly straightforward cuts to play up the film’s drama and humor. Production designer Claude Pare, along with set decorator Elise de Blois and art director Michele Laliberte, does an incredible job with the set pieces such as the posh apartment that Barney and Miriam lived in to the quaint cabin Barney owns in the Canadian countryside. Costume designer Nicoletta Massone does a fantastic job with the costumes to play up the different periods of the time from the hippie clothing of Barney’s first wife Carla to the more calm yet stylish clothing of Miriam.

The film’s makeup by Adrien Mort and Micheline Trepanier is superb for the way the characters age without making it too fake. Visual effects supervisor Louis Morin does a good job with some of the minor visual effects for backdrops of 1970s NYC and other location spots. Sound editor Fred Brennan does a terrific job with the sound work from the raucous atmosphere of the 2nd wedding and bar scenes to the intimate moments involving Barney and Miriam. The film’s music by Pasquale Catalano is wonderful for its plaintive piano pieces to swelling orchestral cuts to play up the drama that occurs in the film. Additional music pieces include songs ranging from 60s rock and 70s disco along with cuts by Dusty Springfield and Leonard Cohen.

The casting by Deirdre Bowen, Pam Dixon, and Nina Gold is truly the film’s highlight for the ensemble that is created for the film. Among the people who make appearances for the film include filmmakers Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg as a couple of TV show directors plus Denys Arcand as a waiter, Ted Kotcheff as a train conductor, and Paul Gross as an actor on Barney’s TV show. Other notable supporting roles include Macha Grenon as an aging actress on Barney’s TV show, Harvey Atkin as Barney’s disapproving second father-in-law, Saul Rubinek as Barney’s cruel first father-in-law, Cle Bennett and Thomas Trabacchi in their respective roles as two of Barney’s longtime friends Cedric and Leo, Paula Jean Hixson as the bartender at the bar Barney frequents at, and Mark Addy as the pushy detective O’Heare.

Jake Hoffman and Anna Hopkins are very good in their respective roles as Barney’s adult children Michael and Kate while Bruce Greenwood is excellent as the very nice Blair whom Barney feels annoyed by. Rachelle Leferve is very good as Barney’s unstable yet artistic first wife Clara while Minnie Driver is very funny as the loud and demanding unnamed second wife. Scott Speedman is terrific as Barney’s strung-out yet creative best friend Boogie who helps Barney deal with the second marriage while resenting him for things he had. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Barney’s father Izzy who says some very funny things while being the caring father that Barney needs including a moment when Barney is in big trouble.

Rosamund Pike gives what is truly a mesmerizing and radiant performance as Barney’s third wife Miriam. Pike delivers a sense of grace and charm to a woman who is befuddled by Barney’s attempts to win her affections while her strongest moments are in the more dramatic moments where she displays an amazing sense of restraint to act out these emotive moments. Finally, there’s Paul Giamatti in an absolutely powerful performance as Barney Panofsky. Giamatti brings a lot of wit and humility to a character that wears his heart on his sleeve as he looks for love and happiness only to either find it in the wrong places or to become desperate when he feels alone. It’s a performance that allows Giamatti to be the romantic as his scenes with Pike are truly magical to watch in the way they care for each other including a key dramatic moment when no dialogue was really needed.

Barney’s Version is a remarkable film from Richard J. Lewis that features outstanding performances from Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, and Dustin Hoffman. While it’s a film that is a bit flawed and at times, feels overlong due to the overdrawn third act. It is still very engaging in its exploration of a man’s loss and desire to find love. In the end, Barney’s Version is a wonderful film from Richard J. Lewis.

© thevoid99 2012

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