The first time director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe paired together, they made the award winning Gladiator, and perhaps surprised folks that a mainstream action movie could snag the best picture Oscar. Here, they come together again for a pretty feel good movie, but I don't expect that this would win any major honours. Not that it's a bad film, but it's quite vanilla plain, that you could guess every other step of how the narrative and plot will unfold.
Based on a book by Peter Mayle, A Good Year has plenty of life references to wine and vineyards, made as a comparison and reminder on how to live life. It's quite unlike Sideways, which was more of a road trip movie and had its plot revolve around wine. A Good Year has its revolve around an arse hole of a character, Maximillian Skinner (Russell Crowe), the successful bond trader everyone loves to hate, given his ruthless knack on the trading bourses, and making loads of obscene money.
So he learns that he had inherited a chateau in France, the same one he had spent his childhood (little Max played by Freddie Highmore) summer holidays in with his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), but instead the first thing that crosses his mind is, how much is it worth should he sell it?
It's a look at how you want to live life, making loads of money versus living it out with plenty of heart, and love. Love for the people who once made a difference to your life, and love and appreciation of life itself. Time to stop and smell the roses, versus the corporate rat race filled with backstabbing and office politics. And naturally when finding out about oneself, a look back at one's roots will always be a good way to start.
There are a number of sub plots weaved into the movie, like the sudden appearance of a possible illegitimate cousin, Christie (Abbie Cornish), who could complicate matters of inheritance, of the opposition of resident vineyard caretaker Francis (Didier Bourdon), and of course, romance in the form of a feisty French woman Fanny (Marion Cotillard), amongst others. There's also a bit about the different wine standards thrown in, which serves only to confuse, rudimentarily. There's a ring of familiarity to these characters, and at a glance, you would probably be able to guess the parts they play to develop the story, as do the little nagging business bits in the movie, but by making all these threads come together, and certain plot devices as well, only served to deliver up to expectations in an all's well that ends well.
Some random thoughts - I loved the song by Alizee used in the movie, and quite surprised that it actually made it other than just be featured in the trailer. The movie also turned out to be quite the technological showcase, at least in the beginning, accompanying Max's progressive change. You have GPS, and almost an ad feel to Max's use of his PDA phone for calls, photo taking, the whole works. And if you think Crowe's outfits looked snazzy, yes, he's outfitted by Armani.
The very first time I took notice of Russell Crowe, was when he played the villain in Virtuosity. Back then I thought that the guy had something going for him. And I've been convinced, having watched his last 6 movies, that he's a pretty fine actor, though his buffed and gruff demeanour had the tabloids highlighting his every shenanigan. Albert Finney and Freddie Highmore make a good pairing as well, given their limited screen time as the Uncle and his young nephew spending summer together. And don't get me started on the eye candy, who, well, remain eye candy for the most parts.
A Good Year runs on an even keel, and feels light by the time it ends. Let's hope the next collaboration between Scott and Crowe in American Gangster, with the addition of Denzel Washington (who played opposite Crowe in Virtuosity), will be something more explosive.
"Winning's not everything, it's the only thing!" - Maximillian Skinner