Barney's Version, Dustin Hoffman


Directed by Richard J. Lewis. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver.

This film about an alleged murder, romance, infidelity and debilitating disease mystifies you as to its genre but by the end you’re too caught up in the protagonist’s passion and life to care about where the movie fits in.

Totally Unnecessary Productions is the name of the company owned by Barney Panofsky, which goes to show you the relatively directionless life this Jewish 65-year-old, drinker, smoker and womaniser has had. After two wives, one who kills herself and the second (Driver) who requires Barney to wash his penis out with soap before she fellates him, Barney finally finds the woman of his dreams in Miriam Grant (Pike). He’s still married but his Casanova best friend gives him a way out by sleeping with his current wife but then mysteriously disappears. The cops think Barney killed his best friend for sleeping with his wife but the lack of a body gets him off the hook.

Oh and of course there’s Barney’s horny father Izzy played by the lovable and brilliant Dustin Hoffman, advising his son on matters of murder and love.

With a hard-nosed cop (Mark Addy) out to get Barney for the ‘alleged’ murder and even writing a book about the case, and then Barney’s delightfully school boy pursuit of his lady love, you never quite know whether the movie is a murder mystery or a romance. But it doesn’t matter. Giamatti’s portrayal of the rambunctious and soft-hearted man who gets the tall and beautiful girls through sheer persistence and self-confidence is scintillating. Little bits of self-mocking humour in the film are priceless like the bar that Barney visits to watch his hockey matches and get drunk: it’s called Grumpy’s, quite befitting Barney’s mood at times.

The director could have made the story a bit more coherent and focused but then I assume the complications of life – which we are all too aware of – wouldn’t have culminated to show us what becomes of a man struggling with demons, business, relationships, family, friends and his health. At the end of the day it is Barney’s love story that touches us the most and the fact that this larger-than-life character is at heart a frail, lovesick man, longing to be accepted and cared for.

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