Still courtesy of TIFF.
A film twelve years in the making, Barney’s Version stars Paul Giamatti as Barney Panofsky, a boho hanger-on turned Montreal TV producer (working at the fictional Unnecessary Productions, which is too easy to make a joke about) who lives in a cigar-smoky and scotch-soaked haze of sneering cynicism and unrequited love.
The bulk of the film focuses on Barney’s pursuit of his third wife (Rosamund Pike) and the strains his white male narcissist malaise places on their fleetingly idyllic marriage. Dustin Hoffman offers a pleasant performance as Izzy, Barney’s ex-cop father, whose blue-collar career and attuned ear for antisemitism place him at odds with his son’s well-to-do in-laws. On the whole, Barney’s Version is a faithful, and often very funny, realization of Mordecai Richler’s much beloved novel. But it’s not much of a movie.
Lewis, who has predominantly worked directing episodes of CSI and Due South, possesses little sense of the cinematic. There are plenty of location shots in beautiful cities like Rome, New York, and of course Montreal, but Lewis crowds the abundant natural and architectural beauty with the growling face of Giamatti’s Barney and his free-and-easy artist buddies, including novelist Boogie (Scott Speedman) whose crippling heroin addiction does nothing to distract from his handsomeness. Sure, nobody was expecting Grumpy Barney Who Can Recall His Past Wives. But Barney’s Version lacks even a modicum of film artistry. The problem is compounded by veteran producer Robert Lantos calling in cameos from David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and Denys Arcand, Canadian directors who have at one point or another made movies that look like movies, and not overlong CBC dramas.
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