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In 2004's Sideways, Alexander Payne masterfully utilized the "food is life" metaphor to explore the bitter aftertaste of human relationships. But where in that film, the director created a ripe environment for his actors and script to flourish, in A Good Year, director Ridley Scott utilizes a similar metaphor but fails to meld the story with the players, ultimately creating nothing more than a slick travel video that extols the greatness of the Atlantic wine region of France. All is not lost however, as the part of the film that does work the visuals and atmosphere is so appealing and even at times stunning, you won't mind the time you spend with the film.
Movies like Hannibal and Gladiator (and even Blade Runner) show us that Ridley Scott has a masterful touch at realizing the dark and dreadful side of the human condition. But a neglected genre in his repertoire is comedy with only a brief exploration in 2003's Matchstick Men. A Good Year reminds us of why. Not even one of the industry's most consistently productive actors in Russell Crowe can save this one. Probably because he's not very good at comedy either. His physical antics here are about as convincing as Charles Manson in a Santa Claus suit.
Crowe is Max Skinner, a confident and cocky London bond trader who'd break a gentleman's agreement to make a buck, and his latest deal that netted him a nifty seven-figure profit is proof. He revels in competition and bathes in the philosophy that winning isn't everything it's the only thing.
Most undoubtedly, his "thing" for competition comes from his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) with whom Max spent the summers while growing up in the wine heartland of France. Raucous tennis matches and bristly games of chess on the grounds of Henry's Provencal chateau and vineyard, not only gave Max his competitive edge, but also, as evidenced in one particular chess match, inadvertently taught him that cheating pays off.
Upon his Uncle Henry's death, Max learns that he is to inherit the chateau and vineyard since he's Henry's only known living relative. Naturally, Max wants to flip the property in a sale to make a quick buck. But there's a catch - he must travel to France personally to settle the transaction. This is a pivotal point in the film - and the exact moment the movie begins to fall apart. Crowe has been perfectly believable as a miserable cad plying his talents in London's cutthroat financial industry. But upon his arrival in France, his Max is supposed to transform into an easy-go-lucky bloke that's satisfied living by his uncle's philosophy on life "there's nowhere else in the world where one can keep busy doing so little, yet enjoy it so much! The success of the film rest on our ability to accept Max's maturation. To believe in the story, we're asked to buy into Crowe's charm and wit, but unfortunately his charm never appears and his wit is not very witty.
As Max embraces the fond memories of summers past while eating sun-ripened tomatoes poolside, a complication arises in the form of a headstrong California girl, Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish). Christie claims to be the illegitimate daughter of Max's deceased uncle, and if her claims prove true, she not only becomes Max's cousin, but also the true beneficiary of the estate.
Max discovers some mysterious bottles in the chateau's basement bearing the name Le Coin Perdu (The Lost Corner). As told to him by the local cafÃ©'s attractive owner, Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), these bottles are legendary throughout the region and can fetch thousands per bottle on the black market. Max begins to wonder why then is the vineyard's house wine so bad and why do some lesser quality vines turn up on the property as discovered by Christie?
A Good Year is a pleasant little genre piece reminiscent of Under the Tuscan Sun. But it just doesn't have the right star actor or even the right director to make Marc Klein's screenplay (adapted from Peter Mayle's novel of the same name) sing. We know Crowe can act and we've seen many great films from Scott, but neither has the sensitivity necessary to convincingly portray the delicate little touches needed for the film's humorous and romantic moments. As a result, it's one of the most beautifully photographed films of the year, but more closely resembles vinegar than it does fine Bordeaux.
Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1
Subtitles: English; Spanish
Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailer; director's commentary; making-of featurette.
* Commentary With director Ridley Scott
o Postcards from Provence
o Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott discuss the film's production.
o Kingdom of Heaven
o The Illusionist
o Master and Commander
* Music Videos
Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase Packaging