Sporting a bewildering array of facial and cranial hair, Paul Giamatti is Barney Panofsky, a Montreal-based Jewish TV producer. He's a heavy imbiber of single malts, chain-smoker, hockey fan, son of retired policeman Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) and ladies-man semi-extraordinaire.
Barney’s such a player that he meets his third wife, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), at the party celebrating his wedding to Jewish Princess second wife (Minnie Driver). This is after his first wife, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), commits suicide when he doesn’t show up to sample her latkes.
If any of this makes Barney – and his creator, the late Mordecai Richler (“The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz”) – sound like a shameless narcissist, you’re right.
A film adaptation of Richler’s 1997 valedictory novel of the same name, “Barney’s Version” is an oddity today – a throwback to films celebrating the lives of grown men, warts and all.
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Such works colorfully celebrate the bad habits, temper tantrums, romantic follies and dashed dreams of their heroes, and “Barney’s Version’’ is no different. The action begins in Rome in flashback as a young, ambitious Barney carouses with his friends, including the writer Boogie (Scott Speedman), who is Barney’s more handsome, talented and promiscuous mentor and alter ego.
A subplot involving Boogie’s mysterious death after shagging Barney’s second wife, and the detective (Mark Addy) obsessed with the case, goes semi-nowhere.
Directed by TV veteran Richard J. Lewis (“The Defenders,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) and featuring walk-ons by Canadian directors Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg and Ted Kotcheff, “Barney’s Version” does a lot with a little, including location shooting in Rome.
Giamatti might bring a tad too much of his “Sideways” shtick to the proceedings – that mix of clownish skirt-chaser and verbally abusive misanthrope. Barney Panofsky is quite a character, and his decline is sobering.
In the supporting cast, the standouts are Hoffman, who gets a great send-off; Pike, who is glorious as Barney’s true love; Driver, who is a pistol; and a marvelously deadpan Harvey Atkin as Driver’s disapproving father.
“Barney’s Version” contains two Leonard Cohen songs and references to both “Citizen Kane” and Alphonse Daudet. See it for that reason alone.
*** 1/2 *
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Rachelle Lefevre, Paul Gross, Macha Grenon, Scott Speedman, Mark Addy
Director: Richard J. Lewis
Running time: 2:12
Rated: R; alcohol abuse, sexually suggestive scenes, bad behavior