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A Good Year

Genre: , ,

Cast: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish, Marion Cotillard, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Didier Bourdon, Tom Hollander, Freddie Highmore

Director: Ridley Scott

Rated: PG-13

Release Date: February 27th, 2007
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Overall Grade: C+

A Good Year

Review By: Staff

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A Good Year

Move over Matchstick Men, Ridley Scott has a new oddball entry in his thirty year career of directing feature films. After years of directing violent, fast-paced blockbusters like Gladiator, Alien and Black Hawk Down, Scott made an abrupt segue into a comedy/drama of manners with the delightfully entertaining conman lark Matchstick Men. But with his latest directorial effort, A Good Year, Scott moves even further away from his comfort zone as the film is a light-hearted trifle set on a small wine vineyard in the South of France.

Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a high-powered bond trader who refers to his employees as "lab rats" and instills them with the mantra: "winning isn't everything, it's everything." Max's ruthless business sense supercedes any sort of moral order, a trait that his assistant Gemma (Archie Panjabi) calls to attention by stating, "They should bury you face down because that's where you're going." But Max is a self-aware asshole and he revels in the opportunity to pillage and plunder at the expense of friends and family.

After a long day of screwing people over on the bond market, Max returns home to learn that his last remaining relative, his dear Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), has died and left Max his wine vineyard in Provence. Growing up, Max spent his summers in France, carousing around the illustrious estate with his loving Uncle. As Max grew older, he failed to maintain contact with Uncle Henry, their last correspondence being ten years prior to the death. Now that he's a cold-blooded workaholic, he sees no use for the chateau but reluctantly travels down to Provence with the sole purpose of preparing the place for sale. Although once he arrives, he finds himself bowled over with nostalgia and for the first time in his adult life, conflict arises between his work and his personal life.

The film is an adaptation of Peter Mayle's international bestseller of the same name. Mayle, a British-born author who recently achieved notice for a series of Provence-set books, is a writer of tremendous charm and sadly the film adaptation is unable to replicate his tenderness. What was a quaint, modern-day fairy tale on page has turned into a glib, overcooked film so hung up on causality that it lacks any of the organic grace present in Mayle's prose. If this sounds overly harsh it's because I'm an ardent fan of the novel and that always makes the disappointment all the more frustrating. I don't mean to fall into the trap of attacking the inherent shortcomings of a medium-to-medium translation, but I feel some license considering Scott and Mayle are good friends and it was Scott's intention that Mayle write the novel with the plan of eventually turning it into a film.

Scott (who

also owns a house in Provence) appears immensely fond of the film in the DVD's special features, which is endearing, but doesn't assuage the inescapable truth that the film is miscast and misdirected. Scott infuses scenes with hyper-cuts, sped up footage and jump cuts but instead of invoking the qualities of a French farce, they more closely resemble Scott's contributions to the action/adventure genre. Crowe, whose age doesn't coalesce with the distance between the character's past and present, doesn't fare very well in the comedy genre either, appearing far too surly to ever become a comic hero.

On the other hand, the special features section of the DVD is quite impressive. In terms of promotional material, there are four TV spots, two international trailers and a domestic trailer "” all of which are more palatable than watching the entire film "” and a brief conversation between Crowe and Scott that features them joking around more than saying anything about the actual film.

Next are three music videos featuring Russell Crowe's band, The Ordinary Fear of God, performing a selection of their original music. The videos themselves are hugely unimpressive but the music isn't all that bad. One song is titled "One Good Year," and appears to be shot on the film's location but the connection seemingly ends there. At least I can't remember hearing any of these songs in the movie.

The main event is a feature entitled Postcards from Provence. Billed on the DVD as a "unique behind-the-scenes experience," it gives you the opportunity to watch the entire film accompanied by audio commentary by Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein as well as seamless branching into behind-the-scenes footage. Like so many Ridley Scott DVDs, this provides a fascinating peek behind-the-scenes and explicates that Scott is one of the best and most considerate filmmakers for DVD-philes. Watching the extra material is a joy and it's fun to hear Scott gush over what a lovely experience the making of the film was for him.

I do admit A Good Year grew on me as it progressed, especially when Scott ditched his hyperactive mode of filmmaking in favor of letting the story unfold naturally. In the end, I mildly enjoyed my time spent vicariously in the South of France, but it was never grand.

Movie Grade: C+

DVD Grade: A-
Overall Grade: B

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