Barney's Version


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Barney's Version is a Canadian screen adaptation of a novel by famed Canadian author Mordecai Richler. Richler is sort of the Canadian Philip Roth, an outspoken, sometime raunchy chronicler of life in the Jewish community of his youth. His stories are often based on the places and people who occupied his childhood in a blue-collar ethnic neighborhood in Montreal. Richler's sensibilities were formed by his having been part of a third level of disrespect: English speakers are outnumbered and often scorned in Quebec; within that minority Jews are outnumbered and often scorned by Christians; and within that minority everyday blue-collar Jews tend to be looked down upon by the snobby successful ones. Richler uses all three of those conditions as a backdrop, or maybe a frontdrop, for his novels. The most famous of Richler's novels, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, was made into a prestigious, if little-seen, 1974 film starring Richard Dreyfuss, who was then hot off his success in American Graffiti. Duddy Kravitz took in a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film (Canada being the foreign country), and the screenplay by Lionel Chetwynd was nominated for an Oscar.

In simplest terms, Barney's Version is the life story of a blunt, crude fellow who finds his true love on the day of his wedding to another woman. Of course Richler is a serious author, so there's a lot more going on than can be summed up by that catch phrase.

There are actually three main stories in Barney's Version. The central story is Barney's pursuit of his true love. The second is Barney's relationship with his dad, a Montreal beat cop played by Dustin Hoffman. The third is a murder mystery. Well, sorta. A Montreal detective believes that Barney (Paul Giamatti) shot and killed his friend Boogie. This is not an unreasonable assumption, given that Barney is known to have fired two shots after having caught Boogie in the sack with Barney's second wife. Did Barney commit the crime? Even he does not know! He and Boogie were both extremely drunk and playing with a gun on a private boat dock. Barney fired a shot in Boogie's direction and passed out. When Barney regained consciousness, Boogie was gone. On the other hand, Boogie, a junkie and a free-spirit, was known to disappear for years without telling anyone, and his body was never found. So ...

In addition to all those developments, there's much more going on in the background. There is Barney's relationship with the wastrel friends of his youth, his bizarre and tragic first marriage, and his uneasy dealings with his own son. In fact, there's too much going on, resulting in some severely underdeveloped elements. For example, some of the Barney-and-son story seems to have been left on the cutting room floor, because the son seems to go inexplicably and abruptly from total disrespect and abandonment of his father to doting loyalty, with no reconciliation between.

As for the three central threads, I only enjoyed one. The love story is movie business-as-usual, and the murder mystery ends in complete contrivance when an implausible resolution is timed expediently, but the film's saving grace was the loving relationship between Barney and his outspoken dad. Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman are two of the greatest character actors of their respective generations, and they are absolutely magnificent when they perform together, whether engaging in witty banter or mushy sentiment. Barney's second wedding is the best scene in the film. Barney and his dad get falling-down drunk and are obviously fish out of water in the company of Barney's snobby in-laws. Barney's dad shocks most of the staid crowd by telling raunchy and violent cop stories, but dad seems downright dignified compared to Barney, who spends the entire reception drinking sloppily, watching hockey, offending his father-in-law, and flirting with another woman, whom he pursues to the Montreal train station, thus abandoning his own wedding reception. That woman turns out to be his true love.

If the rest of the film had retained more of the high spirits and Richlerian iconoclasm of the wedding scene, Barney's Version could have been an excellent film. Unfortunately, it is actually only a noble failure because the plot degenerates into maudlin scenes about Barney's eventual Alzheimer's disease, although that specific medical term is never spoken aloud. Barney goes from being an amusing curmudgeon in the first half to a pathetic and helpless old man in the finale. Since the feisty personalities of Barney and his dad are the only elements that make the film work, the film simply grinds to a halt when they are absent. Unfortunately, the author and director of this movie did not seem to realize that. The film runs more than two hours. After an hour I was completely absorbed with Barney's Version. After 90 minutes I was looking at my watch, trying to figure out how much longer things would drag on. After 120 minutes I was wishing to be a religious man, so I could pray for deliverance from this film.


Two-disc pack with Blu-Ray and DVD.






3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
79 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
67 (of 100)





7.4 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies





Box Office Mojo. It never reached the top 15 in the USA, having been restricted to a maximum of 281 theaters. The final gross was $4.4 million.





  • Sandra Lavoie shows her breasts.
  • Rosamund Pike shows the side of one breast (no nipple) and offers a rear view in semi-transparent panties.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Solid film that feels like it should have been much more. Sporadically brilliant, but it wears out its welcome with a schlocky final act.