published Friday, February 18th, 2011

Giamatti shines as disgruntled ‘Barney’

By Tom Long

The Detroit News

The parts are greater than the whole in “Barney’s Version,” a rambling look at a shambling man’s adventures in love.

The greatest of those great parts would be star Paul Giamatti, whose blustering charisma makes the entire film seem better than it is. He brings such gruff charm to the title character that you can almost believe his marriages to a series of stunning women. As he often does, Giamatti turns a character who could be quite unlikable into an unlikely delight.

Giamatti is aided primarily by co-stars Dustin Hoffman, playing his father, and the exquisite Rosamund Pike, playing his true love. There are scenes in this film that are acting heaven.

Unfortunately, the movie has the overall feel of a giant novel being crammed into a couple of hours, which is indeed what’s going on.

Based on Mordecai Richler’s popular book, the film is chiefly about the love life of Barney, the contentious producer of a long-running soap opera.

‘BARNEY’S VERSION’

* Rating: R for language and some sexual content.

* Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes.

We begin with young Barney hanging out in Europe, where he marries the nutty but beautiful Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) because he thinks she’s pregnant with his child.

That doesn’t work out, so it’s on to wife No. 2 (Minnie Driver), a beautiful rich girl with a tendency to babble. It’s at their wedding that Barney meets Miriam (Pike) and falls immediately in love.

He’s so taken with her he leaves his own wedding to follow her on a train.

All of this is fine, but director Richard J. Lewis and screenwriter Michael Konyves also pack in a murder mystery involving Barney’s wastrel friend (Scott Speedman), quick glances at the soap opera that go nowhere and other details that probably worked in the book but hamper the film.

Still, there in the middle of it all is Giamatti, making Barney a wonderful mess to watch. He may be far from perfect, but he’s fun.

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