When’s it out?

Barney’s Version is released in selected cinemas across the UK on Friday, January 28th.

Who’s in it?

Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Addy.

What’s it about?

In a nutshell, Barney’s Version charts several decades in the life of a profane, self-obsessed and hard-drinking television producer named Barney Panofsky. From a frazzled, bohemian existence in Europe in the 60’s, to falling in love with the girl of his dreams at his own wedding in the 70’s, to a tragedy that some construe as murder in the 80’s; the film intriguingly pitches itself from Panofsky’s perspective for its entirety. That said, the film never carelessly allows us to get inside the man’s head; a technique that palpably accentuates the darker elements of the story.

What’s it like?

Very unexpectedly, there are mild comparisons to be made between Barney’s Version and the 1974 Michael Cimino classic The Deer Hunter. Although on the surface of it the two films couldn’t possibly be any more different, the pair of them share an extremely unusual flavour; they’re somehow both intimate and epic at the same time. It should be quickly stressed that Barney’s Version isn’t anywhere near as heavy as The Deer Hunter, but some viewers may be blindsided by what looks like – during the opening half-hour at the very least – a fairly straightforward light comedy. Barney’s Version is so much more than that.

Star of the show?

It’s Paul Giamatti, without question; his recent Golden Globe win for this part was richly deserved. Having said that, almost all of the terrific supporting cast – including Scott Speedman and Rosamund Pike – are equal to him. As a bonus, Dustin Hoffman (who appears in an extended cameo as Barney’s father) is better here than he has been in years.

Biggest surprise?

Rosemund Pike’s performance. Coming from an actress who way too frequently appears in movies that are visibly beneath her, she is a comprehensive knockout here. The Full Monty’s Mark Addy, almost unrecognisable as an obsessed alcoholic, is uncommonly strong too. But what’s perhaps most impressive about the film is the way that it remains perpetually coherent; even as it’s busily zipping around a timeline that spans almost fifty years. The world depicted in it also has a uniquely skewed, oddly stylized appearance. For example, the terrible soap opera that Giamatti’s character writes – a drab Canadian melodrama called O’Malley Of The North – looks like it’s being shot in the 1950’s, and is directed (in the film) by the likes of Atom Egoyan and an un-billed David Cronenberg.

Best bit?

This definitely isn’t the kind of movie that has a best ‘bit’. There are some great individual comedic moments, and the film’s final third is unflinchingly powerful – very unexpectedly so, if you haven’t read the book – but singling any of them out for attention would serve to cheapen the overall experience.

Verdict?

It’s no surprise to observe that Barney’s Version is appearing during awards season, but it is a little confounding to note how little attention it’s getting. There are minor flaws – Minnie Driver’s rather overblown performance doesn’t really belong in movie that’s blessed with this kind of discursive subtlety – but for the most part it’s the kind of piece that would normally be getting serious awards recognition. It has been a pretty exceptional year in fairness, but at the very least Giamatti should be seriously considered as a dark horse for this year’s Best Actor Oscar. If anyone can stifle the the Academy’s overwhelmingly passionate recent enthusiasm for Colin Firth, it’s him.

Hit or miss?

An unorthodox and deeply affecting film that is well worth seeking out, even if it isn’t playing locally. Hit.

Watch the Barney’s Version trailer here:

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