Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman, Bruce Greenwood, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman, Thomas Trabacchi, Clé Bennett, Rachelle Lefevre, Mark Addy, Saul Rubinek, Howard Jerome, Macha Grenon, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Ted Kotcheff, Denys Arcand, Maury Chaykin
Written by: Michael Konyves, based on a novel by Mordecai Richler
Directed by: Richard J. Lewis
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running Time: 132
Date: 09/10/2010

Barney's Version (2010)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Wives Guy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel plays with the idea of the "unreliable narrator." Barney tells his story after the onset of Alzheimer's Disease, and then his notes are re-edited by Barney's son. The movie abandons all these ideas and then uses the Alzheimer's as not much more than a maudlin plot device to wrench sympathy from the viewer.

Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) begins his adult life by taking a soulless, but successful job in television, and marries his pregnant, no-good girlfriend. It ends in disaster. Later, he agrees to marry a second woman (Minnie Driver), but on his wedding night, he falls instantly and helplessly in love with a third woman, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), and begins pursuing her. Years later, with grown children, he finds competition for Miriam's affections in the gentle Blair (Bruce Greenwood). All the while, he must deal with the mysterious, violent disappearance of his best friend "Boogie" (Scott Speedman), with the oddball advice of his loving, good-hearted father (Dustin Hoffman), and with the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Director Richard J. Lewis directs after a long career in television, and he fails to balance the movie's inherent comedy and drama. Instead, he begins with some strong laughs, and then allows them to dissipate as the heavy, clunky drama begins to take over. He also allows the movie to drag on far too long, well past the breaking point, and he loses any and all goodwill the characters may have drummed up. Some of the characters are well-drawn and others are thin, but the cast is game, and the actors, notably Giamatti, Hoffman, and Driver, shine in their roles. Giamatti's makeup is also especially good, and he's believable at every age. Several notable Canadian film directors appear in cameos.

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