quarta-feira, 22 de dezembro de 2010

Barney's Version - REVIEW

MONTREAL - A friend of mine who knows a thing or two about movies and books mentioned the other day that there are only two big scenes in Barney’s Version, the book, and he’s right. The first unforgettable scene, the defining moment in Mordecai Richler’s last novel, is the gala wedding at the Ritz-Carlton. That’s when Barney Panofsky is set to marry the derisively named Second Mrs. P. and a drunken Barney infamously sees and falls instantly head-over-heels in love with Miriam, who will eventually become the Third Mrs. P.

The other key moment occurs when Barney finally has it out with his old, old pal Boogie, another booze-fuelled encounter that may or may not have ended in murder.

The new film version of Barney nails that first scene, in what really is a classic moment of recent Canadian cinema, and doesn’t quite pull off the later one. That kind of neatly sums up the much-anticipated film adaptation from director Richard Lewis and producer Robert Lantos.

Barney’s Version, the film, is a funny, quite moving take on the Richler opus, and it’s a must-see for anyone remotely interested in the life and work of English-Montreal’s most noted novelist. In other words, if you’re reading this newspaper, you should go see it. But for reasons I don’t fully understand, it doesn’t quite do the book justice. Maybe it’s because a novel about a self-centred, misanthropic old guy losing his memory just isn’t the easy thing to capture on the big screen.

The best thing about Barney’s Version is the cast and Lewis’s subtle direction. Paul Giamatti in the title role and Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s dad, Izzy, deliver two of the best performances I’ve seen all year. Giamatti just becomes Barney in all his rumpled, cigar-smoking, single-malt-gulping glory. What’s amazing here is how this fine actor makes this sort of horrible character somewhat endearing, but is smart enough to realize Barney without an edge is just not Barney. There’s a fury in his eyes on a few occasions – Giamatti makes you believe he is indeed capable of murder.

Hoffman, on the other hand, is unbelievably charming as a roguish former Montreal detective who always has a twinkle in his eye and a politically incorrect anecdote to tell.

The actresses playing the three wives are also perfectly chosen, from a sexy, wise-crackin’ Rachelle Lefevre as the unhinged first wife, Clara, to a deliciously irritating Minnie Driver as the unbearable Second Mrs. P., to the luminous Rosamund Pike as Miriam, the love of Barney’s life.

But the problem, and it’s a big one, is Scott Speedman as Boogie, Barney’s great pal who plays a small but central role in both the book and film. I just never really bought this hunky show-offy actor as Bernard (Boogie) Moscovitch.

The film doesn’t make us believe these two were ever thick as thieves. So when the friendship snaps, it lacks the dramatic – heck, tragic – force necessary to give that moment the requisite oomph.

But somehow the film still works and that’s why you have to give props to Montreal screenwriter Michael Konyves, who has done a downright astonishing job of transforming this sprawling, introverted novel into a movie that captures the spirit of the original without being slavishly beholden to Richler’s prose. Konyves wisely built the film around the love story between Barney and Miriam, and the result is a deeply touching romantic drama. That final scene with the two of them at the Ritz is a heartbreaker, and if you’re not fighting back a tear or two at that point, you might want to check your pulse.

Giamatti has said that Barney’s Version is an epic character study, no more and no less, and he’s probably right. This is the tale of a guy who sowed his wild oats in Rome (or in Paris in the book), became a successful TV producer in Montreal (thanks to his aptly named Totally Unnecessary Productions) and managed to royally mess up his personal life whenever given half a chance. Some have criticized Barney for being an old-fashioned movie, and it is, but in a good way. It’s a throwback to the best kind of movies Hollywood used to make in the ’70s, back when it was still possible to shoot ambitious, personal stories that had time for nuance, adult emotion and characters with a few rough edges. So, yeah, sure this version is flawed. But it’s still nice to spend a couple of hours with this miserable curmudgeon.

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman

Barney’s Version opens in theatres Friday, Dec. 24.

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