Barney’s Version Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

The film opens with a sixty-year-old Jewish-Canadian Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) getting drunk and making phone calls to his ex-wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike) in the middle of the night. Her current husband Blair (Bruce Greenwood), who flatly refuses to wake Miriam, answers the phone, and Barney tells him all sorts of nasty things.

The next day, his daughter calls him and says that Blair had a heart attack that night, which, quite possibly, was provoked by Panofsky’s call. However, this does not make a noticeable impression on Barney, and he goes to work at the Absolutely Useless Things company, where for thirty years as a producer he has been making an endless series, but still beloved by Canadian viewers.

After work, he stops by to get drunk at his favorite bar, “Dinx”, where he is waiting for an already fairly recruited police detective O’Himy (Mark Addy). The detective has just published a book, With Friends Like These, in which he describes the story of Barney’s friendship with a certain Boogie (Scott Speedman). According to the detective, Barney killed Boogie many years ago: then O’Himy investigated the case, but Barney managed to escape punishment, since Boogie’s body was never found.

The action then shifts to 1974 Rome, where young Barney confesses to Boogie and two other friends that he has decided to marry Clara Chambers (Rachelle Lefebvre). Boogie tries to dissuade him, saying that Clara is completely crazy. But Barney replies that he must marry because Clara is pregnant by him.

And gradually we will be shown the life story of Barney, who was married three times, and he met his third wife at a wedding during his second marriage.


The film is not new, 2010. I somehow missed it at one time, and recently in one movie group they discussed Paul Giamati, who is one of my favorite actors, and one subscriber of the group wrote that she had the most favorite role of Paul in the film “According to Barney”. I got interested, looked at the description, saw that in addition to Giamati himself, who plays the main role, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike and Minnie Driver are also busy, and decided to look.

The picture is based on the book of the same name by the Canadian writer Mordechai Richler: his parents are Jewish emigrants from Russia. Richler has written ten major novels, and Barney’s Version (originally called Barney’s Version, Barney’s Version) is his last book, published in 1997, four years before the writer’s death. The book tells about the life of the Canadian Jew Barney Panofsky, about his three marriages, his adventures, his friendship with the man Barney was accused of murdering, and other things.

The book was very popular, it won the prestigious Stephen Leacock Award (Leacock was a famous writer, I really love his stories) and I’m going to read it. However, I decided not to delay the review of the film, because it is unlikely that anyone who wants to see this picture will read the book before that, so I decided to describe in the review the impressions of a person who is not familiar with the literary source.

Why “According to Barney”? Barney starts dementia, he forgets the simplest things. Also, a book was published in which a police detective accused Barney of killing his best and almost only friend. And Barney remembers all his life – while he still remembers something. This is Barney’s version of his own life, but he remembers it as it is, without embellishment.

The film was directed by Canadian director Richard Jay Lewis. He worked on well-known series – “The Hand of God”, “In Sight”, “Battle Creek”, “World of the Wild West” and others. “According to Barney” is practically his only feature film.

Reviews of this film often contain phrases from the series “about a life wasted incompetently”, “how to flush your life down the toilet”, and critic Stanislav Zelvensky characterizes the main character of the film as “a slightly disgusting Canadian Jew”.

Meanwhile, it did not seem to me that the picture tells about a “meanly spent life.” And Barney – for all the peculiarities of his personality – certainly does not seem “slightly disgusting.” He is just a living person, with all the advantages and disadvantages inherent in him. A romantic with the soul of a poet and a business man. Sanity and rationality at the same time as extremely careless actions. Sociability and the ability to make various acquaintances – and at the same time only one person in reality was his real friend.

Paul Giamati showed him this way: charming and repulsive, sober-minded and doing frankly stupid things. He married his first wife out of a sense of duty, his second wife because she was from a very wealthy Jewish family, and besides, he was introduced to her by his wealthy uncle Barney, who takes a great part in his fate.

But when he met Miriam at the wedding, he realized that she was the love of his life. And he began to seek her: Miriam refused to meet with a married man, so Barney had to get a divorce, risking that the second wife (she is never called by name and in the list of roles she is called “second wife” in the list of roles) during his divorce simply ruin.

Actor Paul Giamatti’s barney is somewhat reminiscent of his own Miles Raymond from the good 2005 film Roadside. The same slightly ridiculous, the same suffering from a break with his beloved wife, sometimes doing amazingly stupid things, but at the same time very charming. Giamatti plays such roles well, and here he also had to portray Barney at various periods of his life: from about twenty-five years old to sixty-five years old, destroyed by senile dementia. For this role, Paul in 2011 received the Golden Globe in the category “Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical.”

By the way, interestingly, Paul Giamatti himself does not have any Jewish blood at all: among his ancestors are Italians by his father and Irish by his mother. But here the skill of the make-up artists worked – the Jew turned out to be quite natural and characteristic.

Well, since we are talking about this, the Jewish theme in the film is played up quite ironically. The wealthy Jewish family of his second wife’s parents is clearly looking at Barney with disapproval, suspecting that the guy is a specific “shmok” and “poz” (well, in general, he did not disappoint them in this suspicion), and Barney’s dad, retired police officer Izzy Panofsky, when complained during his acquaintance with the parents of his son’s fiancee that he had encountered anti-Semitism in the police, he spoke about this rather comically.

Dustin Hoffman played the father-cop here, and the role turned out just great! Hoffman is a wonderful actor, but, let’s say, very characteristic. Some of his roles are simply brilliant, but when he plays not his type, it turns out very so-so – like, for example, in the film “Billy Bathgate”, where he played the psychopath Dutch Schultz, and it was a complete miscasting (and how great he is played by James Remar in The Cotton Club).

But here is a completely different matter. Izzy (Israel) Panofsky is, on the one hand, a cynical and straightforward person, but on the other hand, it is clear that he and his son are very close and their relationship is quite touching. And then I immediately remembered the relationship of federal prosecutor Chuck Rhoads, played by Paul Giamatti in the series “Billions”, with his father, where they easily betrayed and framed each other. But here is another matter. Izzy son fully supports and approves of all his decisions. Great role, loved it.

Rosamund Pike played the role of Miriam, Barney’s third wife and the love of his life, played with restraint, in halftones, but really great. I have a peculiar story with this British actress. The first time I saw her was in “Jack Reacher” with Cruz, and I really didn’t like her there. But I didn’t like the movie at all. But then she had a good role in Edgar Wright’s “Armageddec”, an interesting role in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” and a very pretty role in Andy Hamilton’s “Dream Vacation”.

Here Rosamund, as they say, is quite in place. You completely believe that Barney could fall in love with her at first sight. You believe that he also hooked her with something, but she is not going to mess with a married man. You also believe that Barney still managed to win her over, despite a very unsuccessful first date. Well, there is something about this plump, who at times behaves completely foolishly – and both Pike and Giamatti perfectly showed it.

Of the other participants in the picture, I will single out the British actor Scott Speedman, who played Barney Boogie’s best friend. I don’t know this actor at all, he has only a few episodes here, but he really liked and remembered. Boogie has a great propensity for self-destruction, under the slogan “You only live once” he tries to live fast and die young – and he succeeds. I mean, die young. He really is Barney’s best friend, and whether Barney killed him or not – the audience will only find out at the very end of the film.

Well, I’ll also note that the theme of prominent Canadians runs like a red thread in the film, which few viewers will understand. That same endless series is directed by David Cronenberg, and there is Atom Egoyan (also a very famous Canadian director of Armenian origin) nearby, Denis Arkan (another famous Canadian director, Oscar winner for the film “Invasion of the Barbarians”) brings the bill in the restaurant, and when Barney is in complete mental disarray, he listens to Leonard Cohen, who probably needs no introduction.

Good movie, I’m glad I saw it. Nothing so outstanding, but fans of Paul Giamatti must watch: this is probably one of the most significant films in the career of this wonderful actor. Although he has many other excellent roles.

PS And I will definitely read the book. And I will write about my impressions.

PPS And there, actor Saul Rubinek plays a small but very memorable role as the father of Clara Chambers. It is unfortunate that Rubinek’s acting career somehow did not work out. I don’t know what was the fault of this, but the actor is interesting and worthy.

According to Barney / Barney’s Version

Director: Richard J. Lewis Cast: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachelle Lefevre, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Addy, Saul Rubinek

Tragicomedy, Italy-Canada, 2010, 134 min.

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