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Home » Culture and Criticism

Barney’s Version

Submitted by on February 22, 2011 – 10:22 AM4 Comments

Sarah 42, Death Race 14; 18 of 24 categories completed

“Barney’s Version” is not a movie to be loved from start to finish. I was annoyed by it, then I liked it, then it irritated me, then I liked it a lot. — Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press

…That. I was bored and rapt by turns; sometimes I rooted for Barney (Paul Giamatti, in a Globe-winning performance that Academy voters for some reason passed on nominating), sometimes I wanted to punch him in the nuts. His various clueless and self-destructive acts read as sympathetic, or at least familiar, but it’s not quite the character who makes the thing go — it’s Giamatti, even though he spends most of the film under a truly wretched toupee. The scene during which Barney and Boogie (Scott Speedman, still adorbs), pointedly not fighting over one betrayal, proceed to fight about every single other one shows how crucial Giamatti is to the success of the film: the dialogue is a bit workshoppy and too incisive for drunk people, and Speedman is better than he’s sometimes given credit for but still tends to lose nuance at high volumes. The only thing in the scene that’s just right is Giamatti.

Rosamund Pike is amazing and real as the one Barney somehow didn’t let get away, yet, but my favorite bit of casting is Dustin Hoffman as Panofsky Sr., a boorish retired cop. It’s the first time in a while that Hoffman hasn’t thrown a version of Dustin Hoffman™ up on the screen instead of acting; he’s clearly having a great time.

The movie, narratively, is messy and frustrating. Decades get skipped; titular plots disappear for an hour; I guess you could call the costume design “subtle and uncliched,” but the occasional bell-bottom or shoulder pad would have helped me fix the era better. Apparently the book it’s based on is far superior to the film, but I haven’t read the book, and the movie…well, it’s like a person you love, forgetful, self-absorbed, leaves shit everywhere, but then charming and sweet too, predictable in that way only someone you love can be. It’s not a great film, or criminally overlooked, but it’s a worthwhile watch, for sure, because it’ll get you talking.

It’s up for Best Makeup, I presume for the aging of the characters, which it does realistically well. Giamatti should have at least gotten nominated, and I wonder what happened there. I wonder if the feeling was that Firth should get the win he didn’t get last year, and that putting Giamatti in the category for a performance with a higher difficulty rating might mean that Firth had to go home empty-handed again. I don’t know how the nominating process works or whether it’s even possible to engineer things that way, but Giamatti did win the Globe, so…who knows. I like Firth’s performance a lot, as I’ve said, but Giamatti’s is more impressive.




  • Alan Swann says:

    Agree with most of your criticisms and all of your praise. I’m not sure who Giamatti should have displaced in the Best Actor race (I haven’t seen Bardem or Bridges yet), but his omission is the single biggest nomination screwup of the year. He invests his loud and boorish character with subtlety and nuance, and his relationship with Pike (rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses) is wonderful and heartbreaking and completely believable.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    All these years later and I still want Scott Speedman to run away with me and elope. That’s basically the only thing I left this movie thinking about.
    Giamatti was good, as usual, and I agree with you that Hoffman was the best he’s been in decades. I have to wonder about the poor job the studio has done in promoting this film. Seriously, except for the Globe win, and Giamatti’s appearance awhile back on the Daily Show, I haven’t heard shit about this film. Very strange.

    I’m proud at how much of the Death Race I’ve completed. I’m basically only left with the Documentary Shorts and most of the Foreign category, and I have 17 of 24 categories completed.
    I’m seeing Another Year tonight and might see The Way Back tomorrow (although, after your review I’m not sure). The two would close out 2 more categories which would make me happy.

    I think The Tempest will be the “death” of us all.

  • Jeanne says:

    I think the problem with this is few if any people had even heard of this movie before Giamatti won the Golden Globe. I hadn’t, and I’m somewhat of an awards junkie. It probably just wasn’t a visible enough movie for the Oscars.

    It didn’t come to my area until a couple weeks ago, and it’s only playing in the indie theater that takes me 90 minutes to get to via public transportation. I’ll have to add it to the Netflix queue.

  • cayenne says:

    In Canada, especially if you like film, it was impossible to avoid this movie as it was fawned over like mad, and the distributors bought a spot in every possible ad break on CBC. And I would really have liked to avoid it because frankly, like many Canucks, I’ve had Richler shoved my throat since age 6, and I can’t stand his overrated & self-indulgent ass. I could not go to this movie, even if it were the best thing since Casablanca.

    Wow. Sorry ’bout that. /rant.

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