A Good Year Review: Not the Best in the Cellar

November 10, 2006

A Good Year starts off with the subtitle "a few vintages ago," foreshadowing the wine references soon to come and emphasizing that at least in the wine world, elegance improves with time. This is not the case with Max Skinner (Russell Crowe), who has grown up to be a pompous, narcissistic, money-loving stockbroker without an iota of compassion. Skinner improves himself during the rustic but jumbled A Good Year, which untangles itself only in its last 30 minutes where it then parallels the beauty of the French countryside that it is set in.

After unwittingly earning a large amount of money in one day, Max learns the next that his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has passed away and didn't leave a will, meaning that Max inherits the entire estate featuring a vineyard and enormous chateau in the beautiful countryside of Provence, France. More interested in the property for its monetary value than its sentimental value, Max meets a number of people who interfere with his attempts to sell the estate and return to London. Francis Duflot (Didier Bourdon), the caretaker of the vineyards since his own childhood, fears the loss of his lifelong passion if Max were to sell the estate. Finally the unexpected arrival of Christie (Abbie Cornish), a young American who claims to be his cousin, and his brush with the attractive local Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), whom he begins to fall for, begin to change his ways.

I went in with high expectations: Ridley Scott and Crowe yielded an epic film with Gladiator and will again collaborate on next year's American Gangster. A Good Year is a delightful but still flawed film. Despite its two-hour running time, its pace is too quick for comfort, particularly when Max's mind starts to unfold at the arrival of his supposed cousin Christie. Many of the scenes are jumbled together and often quite confusing, progressing without allowing anyone to get a grasp on what's happening and to build on the characters as they develop. Eventually it slows down near the end as necessary - the opposite of most movies that usually bore after enjoyable build-ups. Where the movie ends up is appropriate and still satisfying, leaving with a result that everyone wants and a desire to find love and enjoy the simple pleasures of wine.

Ridley Scott's epic, sweeping camera movements, previously found in Gladiator, often connect well in portraying the lush landscapes of the French countryside. However, this wonderful visual imagery alone cannot make an entire movie. In spite of some quaint discussion on enjoying wine, not much more intellectualism is often found. Regardless of the ridiculously cold nature of Crowe's character, A Good Year had most of a great story, but was taken much too far in its attempt to reach quickly-bored American audiences. Instead of allowing the audience to consider the exposition of Max's childhood, the scenes progress much too quickly. There is never really chance to "soak in" the characters, and in turn their "bouquet" is lost amidst a troubled story.

Although Max's supposed cousin Christie, played by Abbie Cornish, is charming, the most admirable performances come from the French actors Marion Cotillard as Max's love interest Fanny and Didier Bourdon as the passionate vineyard caretaker Duflot. These fervent and genuine performances really add a unique touch that helps develop the story and the location. Crowe as well fits easily into the narcissistic role, and begins to gain an edge and the viewer's interest as the time passes.

Last Word:
A Good Year has some shining moments and beautiful imagery in the French vineyards, but beyond that it's a jilted story full of average performances. Although it was a bit of a bumpy ride to the end, the smiling satisfaction that comes from the conclusion and the more emotionally serene mood in the last 30 minutes is what makes it worthy. As much as I love Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe teamed together, this is not their best creation by far, but it is still an admirable one.

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