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Barney's Version


Stars: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Addy, Rachelle Lefevre, Bruce Greenwood, Saul Rubinek, Maury Chaykin, Jake Hoffman

Director: Richard J Lewis

The effectively emotional endpieces of this version of Mordecai Richler's last novel tend to blind one to its earlier faults. A lot of the first-two thirds of the film is too talky and, although Giamatti does pretty well in the central role, it has to be said that Dustin Hoffman as his father steals all their scenes together.

Giamatti is grouchy old Barney, who has made a mess of much of his life, even wrecking his marriage to the girl of his dreams after 20 happy years. We first meet him at 30, getting married to an Italian girl (Lefevre) whom he believes he has knocked up (it's someone else's). When his junkie friend Boogie (Speedman) neglects to pass on her despairing message, she kills herself.

This leads Barney into the clutches of a loudly loquacious Jewish princess (Driver) but, already having doubts at the wedding, Barney falls for Miriam (Pike, exuding warmth), a tall beauty he glimpses at the reception, and pursues her relentlessly.

Wife number two conveniently gives him grounds for divorce when bedded by Boogie, though Boogie prevaricates over testifying and, after a fight with Barney, disappears into a lake. A detective (Addy) suspects Barney, but the latter eludes the clutches of the law and marries Miriam.

Problems arise, alas, when the kids grow up and Miriam returns to work as a radio interviewer. Jealous of her relationship with her producer (Greenwood), Barney refuses to listen to her work, and relapses into his old ways, watching ice hockey at Grumpy's bar and getting drunk in the process. However, nothing about the key event that follows this convinces, one illogical contrivance following another. Even so, you should get your handkerchieves out for Barney's decline as the film comes into its own towards the end.

David Quinlan

USA 2010. UK Distributor: Universal . Colour by deluxe.
132 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 24 Jan 2011