BARNEY'S VERSION (director: Richard Lewis; screenwriters: Michael Konyves/based on the novel by Mordecai Richler; cinematographer: Guy Dufaux; editor: Susan Shipton; music: Pasquale Catalano; cast:  Paul Giamatti (Barney), Dustin Hoffman (Izzy), Rosamund Pike (Miriam), Minnie Driver (second Mrs. P.), Rachelle Lefevre (Clara), Scott Speedman (Boogie), Bruce Greenwood (Blair), Macha Grenon (Solange), Denys Arcand (a head waiter), David Cronenberg (a director), Paul Gross (Constable O'Malley of the North ), Mark Addy (Detective O'Hearne); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Robert Lantos; Sony Pictures Classics; 2010)

"Mordecai Richler’s 1997 acclaimed best seller novel is never fleshed out."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Under the plodding direction of Richard Lewis (an executive producer and director for the television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) the late Montreal author Mordecai Richler’s 1997 acclaimed best seller novel is never fleshed out and loses the novel's introspection and boldness. Michael Konyves's script can't make the leap from book-to-film adaptation without losing the spirit of the novel, as it eliminates the first-person narration and misses what's swimming around its complex hero's head. All the overlong comedy confessional manages to do well, is observe its colorful but galling main character and chart the course of the schlubby self-absorbed but almost likable arrogant hypocrite as he does his repulsive philandering thing. It's an insipid adaptation that misses both the fun and poignant parts of the novel, though there are rewards such as watching Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike come through with grand performances.

Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) is a brash, fast-talking Montreal Jew, who is the successful TV producer of a long-running cheesy soap opera. His incorrigible crude father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman) is an ex-Montreal cop. It opens up as Barney prank calls at 3:30 a.m his third wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike) and tells her not too pleased hubby (Bruce Greenwood) he wants to discuss with his ex-wife what to do with her nude photos. This leads to a flashback to 1974 Rome, where Barney, in his bohemian days, married on the spur of the moment his free-spirited first wife Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) because he thought she was carrying his child. Barney escapes that bad marriage with her suicide to return to Canada, where his well-connected uncle fixes him up with a wealthy, attractive and smart Jewish girl (Minnie Driver), someone labeled as the Canadian version of a Jewish American Princess. At their wedding ceremony, Barney, a cigar chomping, avid Montreal Canadian fan, already realizes he doesn't love wife number 2 and makes a play for one of the guests at the wedding reception--the pretty, intelligent and personable Miriam (Rosamund Pike). Barney goes off in hot pursuit of his dream girl Miriam, a radio host from NYC, and the storyline covers the 30-year romance of Barney. We see things from the p.o.v. of the 67-year-old Barney, who is battling the beginning stages of Alzheimer's as he reflects on his three failed marriages. It tells how Barney wins Miriam over and raises two kids, but ruins the romance by being unfaithful. Meanwhile, a subplot has Barney as a murder suspect by a vengeful police detective (Mark Addy). Since Barney's missing druggie writer friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) was shtupping his second wife, there are those who believe he's capable of getting revenge.

In spite of Giamatti’s commanding performance, the film never tells us much about Giamatti’s character that would attract him to someone super-fine like Miriam. We never get to know what makes our boy tick and the sardonic Jewish humor from the book never materializes, as the film leaves us with a story that's lacking insight and seems inert.  

REVIEWED ON 3/27/2011       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"