A Good Year
March 7, 2007
File this film under “what the hell were they thinking?” Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott follow-up their successful collaboration in Gladiator (2000) with A Good Year (2006), a warm and fuzzy mid-life crisis dramedy (?!) that plays out like a sub par male version of Under the Tuscan Sun (2003). Both men are horribly miscast for what amounts to a multi-million dollar paid vacation in France.
When he was a young boy (Highmore), Max Skinner had many fond memories of time spent with his Uncle Henry (Finney) playing tennis, cricket and swimming in his pool at his winery in Provence, France. Max (Crowe) grows up to be a cold and calculating stockbroker who refers to his employees as “lab rats” and applies the same kind of cunning ruthlessness to his job in what amounts to the British equivalent of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987). One day, Max receives a letter that his uncle has died and left his winery to him. Of course, all he is concerned with is how much it is worth and how much he can sell it for. However, the catch is that he must physically go there to seal the deal.
Naturally, Henry’s winery is a stunning, sprawling estate left untouched by the ravishes of time. Scott lights it so that everything looks like a postcard come to life and you know that Max will eventually fall in love with the place. As with all of Scott’s films, this one is beautifully shot with every scene perfectly framed and lit as you would expect but there is a hollowness to it all, as if the gorgeous visuals were trying to distract one from the fact that there isn’t much substance.
Everywhere Max looks, there are remembrances of his childhood and the time he spent there with his uncle and these start to chip away at his unfeeling facade. Through a series of mishaps, Max is stuck at the picturesque estate for a week and falls in love with a beautiful local woman named Fanny Chenal (Cotillard) whom he crosses paths on several occasions. They can’t stand each other at first which only endears her more to Max who loves a challenge. It’s just a pity that there is zero chemistry between these two people and so we don’t really care if they become romantically involved or not.
The film’s clumsy attempts at comedy include Max’s rental car as an emasculating little stub of an automobile and his caretaker’s dog peeing on his shoe. Russell Crowe tries his hand at light, physical comedy in the form of his character falling in an old, emptied out pool, unable to get out and so we get several minutes of the actor flailing about. This film seems like an ill fit for the actor despite his dedication to making it work. However, all of his hard work doesn’t transcend the cliché-ridden screenplay that desperately needs a re-write from someone like James L. Brooks or Cameron Crowe who are much more attuned and familiar with the blending of comedy, drama and romance. At times it feels like he and Scott are killing time between more substantial projects and in fact they are teaming up again on a true crime epic entitled American Gangster. Let’s hope it is much better than A Good Year.
“Postcards from Provence” is a combination of audio commentary, with director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein, and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Scott says that he has lived in Provence for 15 years and most of the film was shot several minutes away from his home. The director talks about the editing choices he made, including how much of the flashbacks to keep. Klein talks about his working relationship with Scott and praises Crowe’s comedic chops. The featurettes blend rather nicely with the commentary, especially Scott’s perceptive observations, making this an infinitely more interesting experience than the film itself.
“Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott Promo” features a brief conversation between the two men with clips from the movie.
Also included are three trailers and four T.V. spots.
For hardcore Crowe fans only are three music videos for songs the actor recorded with his new band the Extraordinary Fear of God. Yes, we get to see the actor sing and “rock out” with his latest sampling of generic rock ‘n’ roll music complete with his smug, self-indulgent smirk throughout that will test the resolve of anyone who watches these videos.