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Barney's Version

Paul Giamatti carries this dramedy adapted from Mordecai Richler's novel

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Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) has lived a messy, semi-successful life: He's well off but dissatisfied; abrasive but sentimental; desperate for romantic stability but not very good at it. Now, growing old and lonely in Montreal, he reflects on his life -- his libertine youth in Italy, three wives, two kids and innumerable cigars, whiskeys and hockey games. I really enjoyed the first half of Richard J. Lewis' film which was a dark comedy, with a slate of entertaining (if stereotypical) characters. Dustin Hoffman has a ball playing Barney's cheerfully low-rent, ex-cop dad; Minnie Driver is wife No. 2, a rich Jewish housewife; and Barney himself is mordantly funny. But once Barney shifts gears into settled domesticity, the film begins a slow slide into treacly material, played out with the film's least-interesting characters. Thus, Barney's Version is imperfect, if still mostly entertaining. It's a shame it loses its brio midway, but if you're a fan of Giamatti, you can't go wrong. It's his movie, and he makes the terribly flawed Barney considerably more sympathetic than he likely deserves to be. Starts Fri., Feb. 11. Manor

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