Monday, August 01, 2011

Barney's Version

I see a lot of Paul Giamatti films, strictly because I believe he’s one of the finest American actors today (see “John Adams,” “Sideways”). His films don’t always measure up, however (“Planet of the Apes” – the 2nd version, “Cold Souls”). But I would count “Barney’s Version” among his finest to date.

Barney’s Version follows the irascible Barney Panofsky through three marriages and most of his adult life. Each marriage he enters into seems to be a huge mistake, and you’d like to shake him and tell him that, but, like our kids, you finally allow that he has to experience all of this himself. And so he does rush forward into these unions, as we watch, gritting our teeth.

Dustin Hoffman, who is often known to command a scene, is quietly effective here as Barney’s father, a man who has been known to make a few life mistakes of his own. He’s a bit of a comic effect here, although there’s a certain poignancy to his lessons learned, and Hoffman brings a quiet dignity to what otherwise might be a stereotypical role.

In the end, it’s a touching film about a man who finally finds the woman who loves him for his flaws, amazingly, totally, while he doesn’t seem to change much for the better under this umbrella of adoration. Could you live with this man? He smokes cigars abundantly, even when asked or even told not to. Drinks to excess, often with his dad. He’s so fanatical a sports fan that he waves off remonstrations that he missed anniversaries, meetings, etc.

What’s great about Giamatti in the role is that he seems almost proud of these excesses, and seems to become the husband and father only when it doesn’t interfere with all of his other escapades. But there’s a very lovable component to Giamatti’s character that only this actor could imbue, a sweetness for which we almost forgive every mistake he lives.

The final act is rather devastating in this epic to middle age, but a fitting third act to a life lived not so well.

Thumb’s up.


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