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By Brian Lafferty


January 28, 2011 (San Diego) – When I think of Barney’s Version, one director that keeps coming to mind for some reason is Mike Nichols. Maybe it’s because Nichols is someone who I consider to be an actor’s director. His movies contain great stories but the performances are what I remember the most. Barney’s Version is the same way. The story is well-written but it’s Paul Giamatti’s great acting that is the most memorable.


Giamatti plays a Canadian TV soap producer who recalls the previous forty years of his life. During that span he was married three times. The first marriage ended when his wife died. The other two ended in divorce. In addition, he is suspected of murdering a friend when in actuality his friend accidentally drowned (something hinted at in the beginning by a Detective, who hands him his new book accusing Barney of murder).


Most movies tend to adhere to a formula. This is not necessarily the best way to tell a story. The movies I tend to remember the most are the ones that have their own unique structure.


Barney’s Version is told primarily in flashbacks, which are structured by each of Barney’s marriages, each with their own set of events. This allows the movie to go in any directions it wants to instead of what would be dictated by a formula. It also allows us to center our focus on Barney.


Barney’s Version does get very depressing towards the end. The movie starts out funny but slyly changes tone. Normally when a film changes tone, it has a negative impact on the movie. Barney’s Version is the exception. The change of tone is not disconcerting. Interestingly, it somehow feels natural.


The screenplay is half of the film’s success. The other half is Paul Giamatti. His sardonic, dry performance is sweeping. He anchors the film without any visible effort. He is funny without being broad and the funny dialogue makes him as much a joy to listen to as he is to watch.


Watching Barney’s Version reminded me of an incident from my teenage years. First, some context: in early 1997 I was diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism. Up until the end of high school I was prone to outbursts under times of stress and anger, sometimes breaking stuff like televisions and putting holes in the wall.


In 8th grade I got angry about something (I can’t remember what, probably something trivial). Just as I calmed down, I suddenly tripped and fell forward. Trying to brace my fall, my hand went through my glass bedroom window, palm outstretched, causing it to shatter. By some miracle I didn’t suffer a single cut or scratch. My parents had a difficult time believing my story. Because they knew I had a tendency for throwing tirades, they thought I threw something at the window in anger. I had to pay for a new window.


In retrospect they were right. Even though it was an accident, it was a major learning experience in two ways. I learned the hard way that even if you accidentally wreck something, you have to pay for it. And just as Barney had to find out for himself, I also learned that when you behave a certain way or have a history of making bad choices people will have a hard time believing you when something bad happens.


Barney’s Version is now playing at the Landmark La Jolla Village Cinemas.


Brian Lafferty can be reached at brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.


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