Review: Barney's Version (15)****

Big-time TV producer Barney Panofsky's life is told in flashback as he is once again thrust into the spotlight for a murder he may (or may not) have committed.

The always terrific Paul Giamatti plays the film's anti-hero – a thrice married man who always seems to be searching for something but is unable to find it. His journey through existence is punctuated by his three spouses – a hippy-dippy flake, a rich man's vulgar, none-too-bright daughter (Minnie Driver, monstrous) and fragrant Rosamund Pike as the love of his life.

Yet Barney appears forever unfulfilled. Partly his frustration and discontent is due to the lingering ghost of Boogie, his elegantly wasted pal (Scott Speedman) who disappeared and who the police believe was killed by Barney. Years later it remains an unsolved crime. As for Barney, it's just a small part of the rich and colourful tapestry that makes up his topsy-turvy life.

Barney's Version, based on his novel and adapted by Mordecai Richler, is another fabulous showcase for Giamatti. He undergoes a wholesale transformation from nobody to somebody, all the while consumed with self-loathing and an urge to be a better man.

Giamatti is also blessed by having Dustin Hoffman play his all-seeing father, an ex-policeman with a lust for a life. Their scenes together are priceless. Packed with casual witticisms, bon mots and life lessons, Barney's Version is a consideration on what we do with the time we are given – how we understand and cope with our frailties, how we deal with loss and muddle through our years.

No-one does it better than the lugubrious Giamatti. He is on a par with Sean Penn as arguably America's best modern film actor. Barney's Version shows once again just how utterly magical he is on screen.