In fact, playing a whining sniveler is Giamatti’s specialty. For his work in “Barney’s Version,” he earned a Golden Globe. And here, he’s a lot more nasty and less sympathetic than in “Sideways.”
His Barney Panofsky from the Mordecai Richler novel owes a nod to the louse played by Charles Grodin and Adam Sandler in their respective versions of “The Heartbreak Kid.” He is the guy who makes a move on the beautiful WASP princess during his honeymoon to the nice badly-sunburned Jewish girl.
Barney doesn’t wait that long. He hits on his said princess, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), at his wedding. Overwhelmed, he announces that he’s in love for the first time. Hearing this, his just married bride (Minnie Driver) says that she is, too. She’s talking about Barney. He’s talking about Miriam.
And he has been married before to a wild one, Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), during his bohemian days in the 70’s in Rome. After a miscarriage of her baby by another man, Clara commits suicide. It’s a minor speed bump in Barney’s life.
Now, a successful TV producer of shows he hates, Barney nurtures his obsession for Miriam with weekly roses. After he finds the Second Mrs. P (as he calls her) in bed with his best friend, drug addict Boogie (Scott Speedman), he is more than happy to cancel the marriage. But not before his apparent accidental shooting of Boogie, whose body is strangely missing.
Barney has a big advantage in the murder investigation: His ex-cop father Izzy (Dustin Hoffman). Outspoken and irascible, Izzy is a major plus. We only suffer because he’s not in the movie more. Basically, Dustin Hoffman is a wasted natural resource.
Barney also is a cheater, leading to the loss of his great love. This sets up a flash-forward scene seen in the film’s beginning: His bitter call to Miriam, now an ex-wife. Giamatti does the same scene in “Sideways,” which leads to “The Dark Side.”
For Giamatti fans, “Barney’s Version” is another entertaining trip to that sad place where he performs so well.