Not quite vintage

AFTER THE astounding success of Gladiator in 2000, director Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have reunited in the hope of producing something equally monumental. No one expected a romantic comedy though.

Based on author Peter Mayle’s international bestseller, A Good Year, Crowe plays the role of Max Skinner, a ruthless and soulless investment expert who, after learning his beloved Uncle Henry (Finney) has died without a last will and testament, travels from London to Provence to visit the gorgeous, if overgrown vineyard he’s inherited and more importantly how much he can cash in with his new asset.

The action moves to the beauty of the rural south of France and with it the pace of the film. From the hectic overcrowded streets of England’s capital, Max is now greeted with the natural beauty of vineyards, hills and lush greenery.

This spot is also where Max spent much of his summer holidays and we begin to learn about his youth through flashbacks with young Max played by Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

These childhood memories obstruct Max’s intention of cashing in on the property and a moral dilemma ensues, made further complicated by the presence of a French waitress (Cotillard) and Christie Roberts (Cornish), who turns up unannounced claiming that she is Henry’s illegitimate daughter, therefore making her the beneficiary of the chateau.

Slowly, the women, wine, memories and Mediterranean climate transform Max from a soulless, unloved miser into a warm-hearted man able to appreciate the world he’s let pass by him for far too long.

The focus on life in a vineyard setting conjures many images of the Oscar winning film Sideways. The storyline doesn’t inspire quite as much as its predecessor, however the focus on atmosphere does carry the film. One line from the script sums it up well: “There’s nowhere else in the world where one can keep busy doing so little, yet enjoy it so much!”

A Good Year deserves praise for the work of a cast of actors far too talented for its predictable, emotionally clichéd script and for the strength of Ridley Scott’s aggressive direction, which continually demands our interest. The film is ultimately an average movie that does little more than answer what should have been an ironic question: What would happen if Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe made a romantic comedy?

Crowe’s performance is OK, but it’s difficult to feel sympathetic towards a character who is a millionaire in London, has a chateau in the south of France and has women falling all over him.

Underneath it all Ridley Scott has made a film about the atmosphere and importance of a place and how it can transform even the hollowest individual. He delivers a respectable retelling of the “back to nature” narrative, in which a selfish individual becomes seduced and saved by a pastoral setting and a pretty woman who lives there.

It’s not a hugely moving film, but spending a few hours in the south of France, experiencing the power of natural beauty should prove a worthwhile escape from the fast approaching dark, winter evenings.


*   missable

* *   reasonable

* * *   entertaining

* * * *   very good

* * * * * outstanding