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|A Good Year|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Ridley Scott|
scr Marc Klein
with Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore, Didier Bourdon, Archie Panjabi, Rafe Spall, Isabelle Candelier, Jacques Herlin, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
release UK 27.Oct.06,
06/UK Fox 1h57
Now and then: Cotillard and Crowe (above); Finney and Highmore (below)
Although shot and played like a goofy comedy, this film is written like a heartwarming drama. And the combination doesn't work, because it's neither funny nor inspirational.
Max Skinner (Crowe) is a ruthless London broker who has long forgotten his idyllic childhood (Highmore in flashbacks) with his wine-growing Uncle Henry (Finney) in France. When Henry dies, Max must travel to Provence to sort out the estate. But his plan to immediately sell it stalls when he starts to reconnect with the terroir. He also meets a feisty, sexy local woman (Cotillard) and re-ignites his banter with the workman (Bourdon) who tends the vines. Then a young American (Cornish) shows up claiming to be Henry's daughter, threatening Max's inheritance.
The story is sweetly predictable, and gives Scott plenty of scope to wallow in the wonders of the French countryside, although he only barely seizes that opportunity: the film is shot almost entirely in close-up and could have been filmed on a Hollywood back-lot. And while the plot is full of strong themes, it's never more than a trite cliche--all corny dialog and unsubtle sentimentality. And then there's the problem of strained slapstick in a film that's not remotely comical.
More enjoyable are examinations of the olde worlde values of wine-making, escaping the rat race, understanding the past and learning to love those rascally country folk. Crowe has the most thankless role as a posh-accented lout who finds his earthy soul (yawn). Side characters are more fun: Bourdon, Candelier and Herlin as the nutty family that runs the vineyard; Hollander as Max's twitchy estate agent; and Panjabi and Spall as Max's London assistants. While Cotillard and Cornish find intriguing depth to their characters.
Scott is clearly aiming for cute and wacky while hedging his bets with sticky nostalgia. Chocolat fans may love this, but it's just as contrived, with characters and plot points that are simplistically established with shorthand. And by going so gooey in the end, Scott abandons any edge he might have developed. There's also the problem that, since it's based on a Peter Mayle book, we've seen it all before.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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