Paul Giamatti is an unreliable narrator whose story includes three...

Paul Giamatti is an unreliable narrator whose story includes three wives and one dangerous friend in "Barney's Version." Credit: Takashi Seida

Please clip and save this review until after you've seen "Barney's Version." The movie, much like your own life, is best enjoyed when you don't know exactly what happens next.

If you're still reading, don't worry about major plot spoilers - there is no plot. The fluid, freewheeling narrative, based on Mordecai Richler's 1997 novel, centers on Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), a successful television producer, womanizer and reluctant Jew in Montreal. He comes by his roguishness honestly: His father, Izzy (Dustin Hoffman, fleetingly superb), gives him a gun for a wedding present. Even less respectable is Barney's best friend, an erudite drug addict nicknamed Boogie (Scott Speedman).

That gun, and Boogie, will bring Barney under suspicion of murder, though this is the least memorable occurrence in his colorful life. After losing his first wife, a bohemian artist named Clara (Rachelle Lefevre), Barney tries going legit with a respectable woman he calls only The Second Mrs. P (a very funny Minnie Driver). It's not the most solid relationship. You can tell because Barney begins wooing the beautiful Miriam (Rosamund Pike) during his own reception.

Giamatti is pitch-perfect as the all-too-human Barney, while Pike, as the fiercely principled Miriam, proves every ounce his equal. (You could call her a revelation, but she's already been one, in 2009's "An Education.") And while director Richard J. Lewis occasionally goes for broad strokes, he's aware that small moments are more important. Those make the movie, just as surely as they make a life.

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