August 9, 2011

Every so often Hollywood produces a grand-scale film with a sweeping narrative and epic storyline that it becomes destined for greatness. No, not summer blockbusters, like Avatar or The Dark Night, with budgets in the hundreds of millions.  The storylines are not epic in the sense that they make way for explosions and breathtaking action, but rather they follow a simple character, and detail every little aspect of their incredible lives. Like The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp, Forrest Gump, and countless others, these films often contain Academy Award-winning or nominated performances, and usually a best picture nomination or win. They go on to be considered classics and live on in lists detailing the best films of all time. Barney’s Version is one of these films, and it needs to be one that goes on these lists.

With its release on Blu-ray, Barney’s Version has a chance to become the hit it deserves, and gain the recognition and acclaim that are justified for such a film. If you haven’t yet seen or heard of this movie, check out the review and watch it immediately afterwards. My review of this masterpiece of cinema on Blu-ray after the jump.

barneys_version_movie_poster_uk_01It’s probably safe to say that Barney’s Version is a film that many reading this review have not seen. It may also be safe to say that it is a film that most of America has not heard of. Grossing only $4 million in the United States, Barney’s Version was barely marketed and improperly distributed, despite featuring the likes of Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman.

While some films can get away with poor box office grosses and still maintain a respectable Oscars presence, apparently it wasn’t only the public that the movie wasn’t marketed to, it was Academy voters as well. Despite critical acclaim amongst those who saw it, Barney’s Version’s only Oscar nomination at the 2010 Academy Awards was for Best Makeup. This is in spite of the fact that Paul Giamatti actually won a Golden Globe for his performance in the film, and that it should have seriously given The Social Network and The King’s Speech a run for their money in the Best Picture category.

The fact is, while most end of year lists declaring the biggest Oscar’s snubs cited Ryan Gosling and Mark Wahlberg, there were few mentions of Paul Giamatti, simply because no one had seen the film. But this being a review and not a list of reasons why the Academy is often wrong, let’s discuss the film’s merits on its own.

Without giving away much of any plot, as the movie is best viewed like life, without knowing what comes next, Barney’s Version follows Paul Giamatti as the titular character, Barney Panofsky. Supported by his best friend Boogie, and father Izzy, both played to perfection by Scott Speedman and Dustin Hoffman, respectively, Barney’s entire adult life is laid out in front of us, allowing us to see what a truly flawed and remarkable person he is. With supporting work from Rachelle Lefevre, Minnie Driver, and Rosamund Pike, who all turn in stellar performances as Barney’s three wives, we see the romance in Barney’s life as told from non-linear and interspersed time periods throughout the film.

barneys_version_movie_image_paul_giamatti_dustin_hoffman_01The direction by Richard J. Lewis is excellent and effortlessly moves the story along through jumps forwards and backwards in time, while deftly blending a perfect cocktail of comedy, drama, and mystery into the film. As I said earlier, every actor does an insanely good job here, including Dustin Hoffman who turns in one of his best performances in years. As much as the film belongs to Giamatti, it would be nothing without the work of the supporting cast and direction from Lewis. The film is beautifully shot, and looks incredible on the flawless Blu-ray transfer, which I’ll get to later.

The emotions in the film are raw and visceral, allowing for one of the saddest final acts in any movie I have ever seen. However, the mystery crafted throughout the story is intriguing and wrapped up perfectly by the end. Credit for this and other aspects of the main plot would of course go to the late Mordechai Richler, who wrote the beloved book of the same name in which the movie is based. There is tense drama, complimented by Barney’s romances and ironic wit. Michael Konyve’s screenplay helps bring lots of comedy to the film, something that could easily be missing in such a dramatic piece. This includes one of the funniest lines in recent memory, involving Barney’s second wife’s cousin being gay. You’ll know it when you hear it.

As for the emotional aspect of the film, I have only ever wanted to cry during three films in my life. One was Click, because in between all the fart jokes, seeing Adam Sandler die is something that should elicit a teary reaction in any functioning human. The second was Toy Story 3, not only because I grew up with Buzz and Woody and the gang and still have them sitting on my desk as I type this, but also because seeing Tom Hanks die is just as bad as seeing Adam Sandler go. The third, aside from the family comedy and the animated film, was Barney’s Version, but for a much more real reason. The film is truly an emotional roller coaster, and by the end of the ride you don’t want to get off because you’ll be too busy crying, or nearly crying, at the sight of a banana (this will go over your head now if you haven’t seen the film, but if you come back and read this again after you see it you’ll understand). The film is sad, and after watching it the first, second, and third time, I learned that I like sad. I’ve been called an emotionless robot before, so being able to have a genuine emotional response to a work of art is a great feeling and I would recommend it to anyone; robot or not.

As for the Blu-ray itself, the picture quality is great, and suits the film well. You may not expect the Blu-ray format to be necessary for a release such as this, with little action or special effects, but it brings out the great cinematography and warm color palate that the film utilizes. Also, as I mentioned before, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for best makeup, and the detail of the makeup really shows through on such a high quality transfer. The aging of Barney and other characters throughout the years, done by Adrien Morot, is seamless and is once again one of the many perfect parts of the film that help make it the spectacle that it is.

The special features on the disc are a great addition for any fan, and include behind the scenes, an old interview with the late Mordecai Richler, a Q&A with Giamatti, and a commentary track by Lewis, Konyves, and producer Robert Lantos. For any admirer of the movie, which you undoubtedly will be after one viewing, these are worthwhile extras that add to the value of owning the Blu-ray. The Blu-ray pack also comes with a DVD of the film…which I guess is good if you want to let someone you don’t really care about borrow the movie.

If you’re looking for an incredible film, with pitch-perfect acting, a lot of emotion, and impeccably written story, that also looks great on your TV and has tons of replay value, look no further than Barney’s Version on Blu-ray. If it hasn’t been made clear yet, it was without a doubt one of the best films of last year, the last decade, and in my opinion, of all time.

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