Paul Giamatti

If ever a film could be described as perfect, it would be 2004’s “Sideways.” It’s absolutely faultless, and the biggest reason is Paul Giamatti. If ever a film could be described as almost perfect, it would be Barney’s Version. It’s absolutely spot-on, and the biggest reason is Paul Giamatti. If ever a film could be described…

I recall being taken to watch American Splendour at the DCA in Dundee by our tutor Christine back in 2003. I remember being transfixed by Giamatti’s performance.

We watched Sideways the other night for what must be the 20th time and it reminded me of just how incredible Paul Giamatti is. Apparently sales of Merlot have never been the same since Sideways was released – they call it the “Sideways Effect.” On the other hand Pinot Noir sales have skyrocketed. Such is Giamatti’s influence following his now legendary outburst:

” I am NOT drinking any FUCKIN’ MERLOT! “

Tonight we watched Barney’s Version for only the 2nd time and once again we were mesmerised by the unfathomable delicacy in which Paul Giamatti brings emotional truth to a scene.

Of particular note is the confession scene between himself and Miriam – Rosamund Pike’s similarly elegant portrayal of his accommodating wife. The scene is a result of deeds done in misunderstood circumstances; a marriage once unbreakable now warranted a short breather, but underlying jealousy has clouded judgement and tragically lead to an undoable act of unfaithfulness. This scene is so pure and so truthful that it feels mildly uncomfortable, as if suddenly we’re an invisible witness to an intensely private moment, watching it unfold in front of our quivering faces.

It is this way because of Giamatti’s virtuoso skill of being able to convey absolute honesty in his portrayal of emotion and in doing so transport us to that very same place, where we would feel exactly as he is feeling in that moment. It sucks the air out of the room in suspense. “It meant nothing” is enough for everyone to know exactly what he means, including Miriam.

The same goes for the scene where he finds his recently deceased Dad, still lying flat-out in a brothel covered only in a red silk sheet. Looking at the screenplay online, the scene directions were:

Barney sits on a small chair beside the body. He lifts the edge of the sheet and takes his father’s hand in his. He starts to laugh at the situation, patting his father’s hand. Then he squeezes it tighter, holding it with both his hands, pressing it to his forehead, and starts to cry.

Giamatti does as only he can do, and makes this both intimate and ridiculous, tender and obscene.:

” Hiya, boychick.
I’m sorry.
Oh, goddamn. Oh, you look like a king.
That’s what you look like, Daddy.
You look like a fucking king. “

Sideways is similarly powerful in the way Giamatti threads the fine needle of portraying realism. His drunken phone call to his ex-wife, whom he still believes is hoping to resolve their disputes and re-connect, instead finding that she’s re-married and attending the impending wedding, is something you can imagine yourself doing, such is the reflection of truth in his execution. Later on at said wedding when he is told by his ex-wife that she is now pregnant, Miles’ face trembles and frowns and contorts all at once – an internal turbulence of a magnitude so great that it obliterates any kind of immediate verbal response. It’s utterly captivating to watch.

In the retrieval of Jack’s wallet from his last sordid hurrah, Giamatti’s fleeting facial expression when he rounds the doorjamb to see the grotesque vision before him, bends me double.

I love him. He is by far the very greatest of them all.