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A Good Year

Russell Crowe in A Good Year

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Ridley Scott; Postcards From Provence; 9 ‘Behind The Scenes’; Ridley Scott And Russell Crowe Promo; 3 Music Videos.

RIDLEY Scott has delivered a few vintage films in his time (Gladiator, Blade Runner, Alien, etc) but sadly wine country comedy A Good Year doesn’t rate as one of them.

It’s amiable enough and features some nice performances but it’s simply not funny enough to register as the comedy it so desperately wants to be.

The film is notable for marking the reunion of Scott with Gladiator star Russell Crowe, as well as the director’s first foray into comedy. But while it maintains the gorgeous visual style associated with any Ridley Scott picture, it struggles to achieve a consistency that might have provided a more sparkling experience.

The story – based on a script by Marc Klein – is simple enough. Max Skinner (Crowe) is a ruthless stock market trader in London with a reputation for taking risks and making money at the expense of others (he refers to his co-workers as “lab rats”).

When he learns that his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has died and the chateau and vineyards in France that he owned are now his, Max heads to Provence determined to make a fast buck with a quick sale. Once there, however, the chateau triggers memories of the time he spent with his uncle as a boy (relayed in flashback with Freddie Highmore playing Max) and the sale doesn’t go quite as smoothly as expected.

For starters, work is required on the property, which Max begins to undertake with the reluctant help of the chateau’s longtime vigneron Francis Duflot (Didier Bourdon), and then Max meets and falls in love with feisty cafe owner Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillared). The arrival of an American who claims to be Henry’s illegitimate daughter (played by Abbie Cornish) complicates matters still further, particularly if her claims are true.

Whether Max will ultimately keep the property and remain in France is never really in doubt but there is some fun in seeing how he arrives at his decision, and the numerous flashback sequences present viewers with some genuinely charming scenes between Finney and Highmore (building on the good work he did in Finding Neverland).

But just as Max states at one point that “comedy is all about timing”, so Scott’s film suffers because of a curious lack of it. The humour occasionally feels forced and laboured. Sight gags involving dogs urinating against Max’s leg, or the sight of Russell Crowe in a small car, muster a smirk at best but lack the sophistication expected from Scott.

Crowe, too, occasionally looks to be struggling with the combination of an English accent and a glib delivery that lacks the timing he mentioned – a situation that the presence of Tom Hollander, as Max’s friend and adviser, merely serves to emphasise (Hollander has a greater sense of delivery).

Comparisons with the far superior Sideways also do little to help A Good Year’s cause. But in spite of its failings, the film does entertain on some levels.

Cotillared is both charming and beautiful as the love interest, the photography is stunning and there’s a certain familiarity with the material that makes it easy to watch. Crowe, too, eventually wins audiences over and shows a nice line in self-deprecation.

It’s just that the overall experience lacks the smoothness of some of the wines the actors delight in drinking. I doubt it’ll age as well as some of the films in either Scott’s or Crowe’s collection.

Read our interview with Russell Crowe

Read our interview with Ridley Scott

Certificate: PG
Running time: 115mins