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A GOOD YEAR

SYNOPSIS:
High flying London-based bonds trader Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) flies off to Provence to inspect the estate left to him by the uncle who brought him up, (Albert Finney), expecting to sell it off with help from his agent Charlie (Tom Hollander) and be back in time for the markets to open. Selling the ramshackle property and vineyard gets bogged down as Max encounters the faithful winemaker (Didier Bourdon) who has managed the vineyard since he was a boy, a pretty young Californian woman with a connection to Uncle Henry who turns up unexpectedly (Abbie Cornish), and a beautiful, alluring young local (Marion Cotillard). Max's business lifeline is his able secretary Gemma (Archie Penjabi) but he finds his values changing by the day.

Review by Louise Keller:
It doesn't matter that the storyline of Ridley Scott's A Good Year is different from that of its inspiration - Peter Mayle's book, A Year in Provence. But it does matter that the tone is flippant and that we don't fall in love with the central character. Sad to say, the resulting romantic comedy feels lightweight. As you would expect, the Provence setting with its soft light and verdant vineyards is gorgeous, and there is an exuberant joie de vivre found in the depiction of the locals. However Russell Crowe's cocky stockbroker Maximillian never sheds his arrogant London persona as he embraces his new life, so we never truly care for him. Crowe's inconsistent English accent wavering throughout is also a distraction.

At first glance it may seem a strange choice for Scott to direct his Gladiator star Russell Crowe as another (very different) Maximillian, but it is not so surprising when you learn that Scott has had a holiday home and vineyard in the region for fifteen years. The film begins 'many vintages' ago, when young Max (Freddie Highmore) is staying with Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) for his summer holidays. Theirs is a special relationship and Henry pays the youngster the ultimate compliment by treating him as an adult: they play chess in the paved courtyard, and taste the latest wines from the cellar. With Finney in fine form, and Highmore most appealing, these early scenes (and the subsequent flashbacks) are among the film's most enjoyable. It's a shame the script fails to address why Henry and Max lost touch with each other.

There are some humorous moments when Max arrives in Provence, finding himself out of his comfort zone, and his courtship with the lovely Marion Cotillard as Fanny Chenal, is charming. The arrival of Abbie Cornish's wine brat from the Napa Valley, and her subsequent romance with Max's friend Charlie (Tom Hollander) is somewhat manufactured, but scenes with local vigneron Francis Duflot (Didier Bourdon) and his effervescent wife Ludivine (Isabelle Candelie) are a real pleasure. Look out for that scrumptious dinner scene when wild boar marinated in red wine is served with an assortment of Provencal vegetables and followed by local cheeses with Marc de Province, the nectar of the gods.

It is the humanization of Max as he discards his smarmy persona across the English Channel that fails to gel, and some of the slapstick tomfoolery is ill conceived and falls flat. Isn't it everyone's dream to pack up and live in France? Somehow, I never felt as though Max deserved his good fortune.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The complexities of making a film of character, relationships, memories and yearning are thrown into sharp relief with A Good Year; Ridley Scott may well find films like Black Hawk Down and Gladiator easier in some ways than this. The tone is so elusive yet to important, and the nuances so volatile. A Good Year has the added advantage-disadvantage of being adapted from a hugely popular book, whose fans hover critically around the movie.

But for those who haven't read the Peter Mayle novel, the film is all new; Russell Crowe as the money-making whiz kid is an intriguing proposition, and the story throws him into Provence as a grown man. We first meet him as a kid (Freddie Highmore) with his beloved Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) teaching him about wine and life in equal measure. The emotional core of the film is Max's failure to keep in touch with his Uncle Henry and how this now come back to haunt him; but it's a muted element in the otherwise picture postcard film.

Albeit a trifle clichéd, the flashback scenes to Max's childhood are the best in the film, grounded in character and beautifully directed, sparsely performed. Later, to contrast Max in his London mode with his Provence mode, there are classic cinematic ploys, with little sign of the Ridley Scott bravura. Some over-simplified and by-the-numbers scenes that don't ring true add to the lumpy, uneven nature of the film, but there is compensation in performances by Archie Penjabi as Max's secretary, Abbie Cornish as the surprise visitor and especially Marion Cotillard as Fanny, the young woman who seems unattainable, but who ultimately effects the required change in Max.

The settings are gorgeous, the vineyard and the estate being the stuff of many city folks' fantasies, and the film is undemanding. Maybe it could have been a bit edgier, cutting deeper and hurting more.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

A GOOD YEAR (M)
(US, 2006)

CAST: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Abbie Cornish, Marion Cotillard, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Didier Bourdon, Tom Hollander, Freddie Highmore

PRODUCER: Ridley Scott

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

SCRIPT: Marc Klein (novel by Peter Mayle)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe le Sourd

EDITOR: Dody Dorn

MUSIC: Marc Streitenfeld

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sonja Klaus

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 9, 2006







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