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The Daily Tar Heel

Movie Review: Barney's Version

No one would ever choose to cast themselves in a self-depreciating way, as a biting, sarcastic and selfish asshole. Then again, we haven’t met Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti). “Barney’s Version” pulls the audience into the last place we expect to be: rooting for the egotistical prick.

When Detective O’Hearne publishes his version of Barney’s past — a smudged love life, marked by gaffe after gaffe, and the alleged murder of his friend Boogie — Barney’s life comes sharply into focus.

Flashing back to 1974 in Rome, where he marries an outspoken “conversation piece” because he impregnated her, Barney’s life is dealt the first blow. Relationship No. 2 seems more stable.

But Barney isn’t in love yet — at least, not until the day of his wedding, when he meets Miriam (Rosamund Pike). Against all notions of what is proper, the blunt Barney pursues her until his marriage cracks.

Giamatti’s depiction is heart-wrenching in its precision. Barney may cast some to the wayside, he might treat people with disdain that could only be mastered after years of drinking, lack of interest in others and a smug appreciation for oneself — and yet, Giamatti oscillates between the drunk cigar-smoking imitation of a man and ruthlessly in love so perfectly that we forgive him for being the former, as we imagine Miriam does.

Like many novel-to-movie adaptations, the film is thought to lose something in translation. Barney never narrates and the audience never sees the way recalling the past entangles in his own mind. But if the audience was anywhere closer to Barney’s thoughts, Barney would teeter on the brink of self-indulgence before toppling into an abyss of alcohol and cigar smoke.

Instead, director Richard Lewis shows us just the right amount to make the story come to life, without bogging it down.

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