December 06, 2010

MOVIES: Barney's Version (Richard J. Lewis, 2010)

This one's getting a one-week run in LA to qualify for the Oscars, and will be released more widely next month.

Paul Giamatti stars as Barney Panofsky, a middle-aged schlub looking back at his life. There's not a lot of plot to speak of. Oh, there's a framing device of sorts about a police detective who is convinced that Barney once (literally) got away with murder, and is still determined to find the evidence against him, but the movie is really a character study of a type we don't often get these days. Giamatti is terrific as a man so perpetually dissatisfied with life that he spends much of the reception after his second wedding hitting on the woman who will become his third wife. And whether it's makeup, digital technology, or some combination of the two, the effects that allow Giamatti to play Barney from roughly 30 to 65 are superbly done.

There are fine supporting performances from Saul Rubinek as father-in-law #1 (only one scene, but it's impeccably played), Minnie Driver as an extraordinarily crass wife #2, Scott Speedman as Barney's best friend and Dustin Hoffman as Barney's father. Best of all is Rosamund Pike as Miriam (wife #3). She gives a subtle, understated performance as a woman who is utterly devoted to Barney, but has firm limits about how much of his nonsense she will abide.

Wonderful surprise, and will sadly probably get lost in the shuffle of movies with bigger stars and advertising budgets. Keep an eye out for it; it's worth the time.

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