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"A Good Year" More Humanistic Than Inspirational

  • Lisa Rice Contributing Writer
  • 2006 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
"A Good Year" More Humanistic Than Inspirational

DVD Release Date:  February 27, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  November 10, 2006
Rating:  PG-13 (for language and some sexual content)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  118 min.
Director:  Ridley Scott
Actors:  Russell Crowe, Freddie Highmore, Albert Finney, Didier Bourdon, Isabelle Candelier, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, and Magalie Woch

The latest Ridley Scott movie, “A Good Year,” is a fair film that has an unmistakable lesson about stopping to smell the roses (or sniff the floral bouquet of your vineyard’s wine, to be precise), yet it lumps along rather slowly and unremarkably at times. Unlike the last action-packed Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe pairing in “Gladiator,” this movie is more of a gentle, thoughtful, European-feeling drama that’s sweet but not overly inspirational.

Adapted from Peter Mayle’s novel of the same title, “A Good Year” tells the story of a successful but hard-hearted, London-based, Armani suit-clad bond trader, Max Skinner (Russell Crowe), who suddenly finds himself at a crossroads. He’s being investigated for fraud on a lucrative bond deal and he’s just found out that his uncle has died and left him a French chateau. He flies to France to check it out, and when some humorous circumstances prevent him from jetting back to London quickly, he finds himself stuck at the chateau and haunted by the memories he had there as a child.

Young Max (Freddie Highmore) had spent summers with his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), a high-spirited, womanizing old geezer who had taught Max about accounting, sports, and life.  Despite the years Henry had invested in his young nephew, however, Max has grown so hard through the years that he hasn’t even contacted his uncle in a decade. And now the only thing on his mind is to sell the old estate as quickly as possible.

His stony heart is challenged, however, when he meets a variety of fascinating townspeople.  There’s Francis and Ludivine Duflot (Didier Bourdon and Isabelle Candelier), the passionate vineyard-keeper and housekeeper who adore the chateau and don’t understand its new owner; there’s Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), the fiery, gorgeous woman who hates him for almost running her over on his bike; and there’s the American girl, Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish), who suspiciously shows up, claiming to be Uncle Henry’s daughter. 

As he wades through memories and tries to follow the advice of his lawyer, Charlie Willis (Tom Hollander) and his secretary (Magalie Woch) to get back to London to deal with his problems, Max finds himself enchanted by the culture and guilty about the way he has treated the only man who showed him real love through his years.

Life is complicated, though, and there are no easy choices for Max at this stage of his life. He wonders if it’s possible to change his ways, to return to his roots, to enjoy and trust people again. Increasingly he is pulled between the power and success he’s known in the mayhem of London’s high business and the offer of the quiet life in a French town whose people would demand vulnerability in him that he’s not sure he possesses. If the memories of the chateau are enough to stir change in him, he might be able to affect lives in generous, positive ways, but perhaps too many years in the rat-race have snuffed out all such possibilities.  And what would become of his life slogan, “Winning is not everything; it’s the only thing.”

“A Good Year” has plenty of elements for a stellar movie – Oscar-winning director and starring actor, solid adaptation of a story with clear transformational elements, quaint, “take me away” settings, and charming music. It also skillfully uses imagery to contrast Max’s world of crazy technology with his uncle’s world of peaceful vineyard living. Again, though, it does feel laggy from time to time, and the tone is very humanistic.  The movie seems to imply that trading the fast life for a more leisurely pace is the big answer, and yet we know that that kind of existence – if it’s only about women and wine – is also empty in the end.  Max still seems to be missing a higher, redeemed vision of making a true impact in his lifetime.

The characters in the movie drink – a lot – and jump in the sack together – a lot – and like to curse with a flair, and they are completely devoid of any spiritual moorings.  Perhaps that’s the empty thing one feels when one leaves the theatre.  Overall, “A Good Year” should draw in the audiences because of the Scott/Crowe pairing, and though it’s a mildly engaging journey, it may not be as memorable as anticipated.  

AUDIENCE:  Adults and older teens

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Excessive.
  • Language:  Plentiful.
  • Sex:  Plentiful, though nothing overtly shown.
  • Nudity:  Female rear-ends on display.
  • Violence:  None.