A Good Year

A Good Year

**

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

So, Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott are back together again six years after Gladiator. No heavyweight sword and sandals epic in ancient Rome this time, rather a light romantic comedy in modern day Provence. Still, could this mean more Oscars are on the way?

Not likely. They're talented enough to hit the target, but some misjudged aim means they're off the bull's-eye here.

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Crowe plays Max Skinner, a charismatic and callous London banker who relishes playing the stock market and trumping the competition. When he receives news that his uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has passed away and that as the sole blood relative he's inherited Henry's ramshackle chateau and vineyard in Provence, he summarily buzzes off to the south of France with a view to flogging it all for a tidy sum. Whisked out of his steely City surroundings, a series of not so unfortunate events then conspire to keep Max at the rural, hazy idyll longer than he proposed, which works out well as his latest dodgy dealing back in Blighty has got him suspended pending an investigation.

Of course, Max is soon remembering the wonderful summers of his youth which he spent visiting his uncle and slowly the romantic surroundings get to warming his cool exterior, especially while he's eyeing local restauranteur beauty Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard). When the gorgeous American Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish) appears, claiming to be Henry's illegitimate daughter with an overruling claim on the estate, Max speeds up his selfish dealings - but is he now so sure he really wants to sell up the new life he can feel in front of him?

So it's a basic vin de table story with no Sideways sophistication served up here and no mistake. Marc Klein's screenplay is based on Peter Mayle's similarly titled book, which, like his A Year in Provence, deftly painted sumptuous, scented portraits of Provence that were crucially integral to the writing. Without such an essentially literary conceit Klein's words cannot be woven into the scenery so well, leaving us a very untaxing narrative. Having Max in a filling French swimming pool floundering at first and then finding a comfortable rhythm, two protagonists battling on a tennis court and calling Fanny's restaurant 'La Renaissance' exemplify how heavy-handedly the sentiments are doled out here. There's the usual rom com predictability of events that never diminishes, but there's little real com to jolly things along, unless you count japes at Smart cars and French stereotypes. And when all's said and done there's very little rom or original 'life redemption' here to enjoy either.

Scott does still make glorious use of his French locations, finding many a genuinely beautiful shot and scene - the countryside will make you want to up sticks and move to Provence immediately - but that doesn't stop things feeling lightweight and unconvincing. Perhaps most at fault here is Crowe himself.

As committed as ever, Crowe has a gutsy stab at Max, but singularly fails to convince as a banking Brit. Clipping his Aussie tones into plummy 'oh bloody hell's and curt 'bollocks' just doesn't work. His stabs at the physical comedy feel disjointed as well, as if he's trying too hard at it. Basically, Crowe's too substantial a lead man to fit into these Hugh Grant-ish shoes.

In a similar vein, Abbie Cornish is twined into the big time following her excellent performance in Somersault. Here she has very little to do and you'd do much better to catch up with her in Candy. A cameo from Valera Bruni Tedeschi (Munich and the excellent 5x2) shows her how it can be done without resorting to bikinis. Didier Bourdon has some one-dimensional fun as the beleaguered vine-hand, as does Archie Panjabi as Max's PA, while Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland) holds his own as the young Max. Albert Finney is the most moving, effortlessly bringing a style and substance to the flashbacks of Max's youth that Crowe can never quite match when back in the present.

A recurrent theme is how Max shouldn't ever dare to even think of having a holiday, the pressures of his job just won't allow it. While this may ring true with anyone working these days, you can't help but feel that that's exactly what Scott and Crowe were doing with their sophomore film. Bring on next year's American Gangsters and a return to form for both.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2006
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A Good Year packshot
Gentle drama about a ruthless investment banker who inherits his uncle's French estate.
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Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Marc Klein, based on the novel by Peter Mayle

Starring: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish, Marion Cotillard, Freddie Highmore, Rafe Spall, Archie Panjabi, Richard Coyle

Year: 2006

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: USA

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