A Good Year to Crowe About
I really wasn't sure what to expect from the comedy/drama "A Good Year" as not only did it have Ridley Scott as director, a man who has made such visual spectaculars as "Gladiator", but also it stars Russell Crowe who is better known for more serious, powerful characters. But curiosity got the better of me and whilst "A Good Year" is by no means up to their usual high standards it is a pleasant, often amusing way to spend a couple of hours.
Max Skinner (Russell Crowe - Cinderella Man) a high powered British stockbroker, whose aptitude and arrogance makes him as many enemies as friends suddenly finds his life taking a different track as he unexpectedly inherits his Uncle Henry's (Albert Finney - Corpse Bride) house and Vineyard in France. Journeying across the channel to make a quick sale on his inheritance he suddenly starts to reminisce about his childhood with his Uncle and whether his high pressure career is indeed what he wants from life.
"A Good Year" is adapted from Peter Mayle's novel of the same name, a writer who some may recognize as he also wrote the novel "A Year in Provence" which was adapted into a successful BBC mini-series. The story itself is beautiful in it's simplicity and revolves around one man's conscience as he starts to doubt whether his chosen career path is right for him and whether the lessons his Uncle taught him about life in Provence as a child had more weight to them than he believed at the time. There are no real major twists and turns or any moments of high drama, but it is the simple "road to Damascus" like journey that Max, the main character, undertakes that makes you smile as you watch.
Where "A Good Year" really managed to score points with me was in the way it flicked between the present, as Max sets about fixing up the estate, and his reminiscing as he remembers what life was like as a child under his Uncle's supervision. It is like a journey of discovery as the smallest things sets him off thinking about the fun times he had, but in some ways it made me start to reminisce about the fun times I had as a child, although mine were purely UK based.
It also helps that "A Good Year" is full of humorous moments, such as his annoyance with a French speaking navigation system in his hire car, or rowing with the obstinate help on the estate. None of which are laugh out loud moments but just enough to make you smile and sometimes appreciate what he is going through.
But unfortunately the story does suffer, most notably from the feeling of being drawn out and at times feels like it is dragging its feet, especially when all a different scene achieves is to reiterate something already clearly achieved in a previous one. Another criticism comes from it introducing new story elements, such as a cousin which Max never knew exists but then fails to really explore this avenue to its full advantage, in effect asking the audience to take certain things for granted, especially a romantic story element which is seriously under worked. But then I can appreciate why this happens as the whole emphasis of "A Good Year" is on Max's personal journey rather than these other things. As is often then case with these sorts of movies, and in my opinion modern cinema as a whole, is that it is all completely predictable. From the moment that Max returns to the estate with the idea of selling it on, we can guess what the outcome will be and it is just a matter of enjoying the journey to get there, which does have the occasional twist.
Now before I watched this I would have said casting Russell Crowe as an Englishman would have been a terrible choice, and whilst he does an adequate job, the fake accent is nauseating to say the least. Maybe he was attempting to show that his character was well educated and successful through the way he spoke, but it fails and is completely unnatural. Ignoring the accent, not an easy job I must admit, Crowe does put in a good performance and manages to carry the movie pretty much by himself. Not since his slightly humorous performance in "Mystery Alaska" has Crowe shown a lighter side to his acting ability and it is a side I feel he should explore more often as he does humorous really well.
Whilst Crowe is definitely the focus of "A Good Year", Albert Finney as his Uncle shows that despite his increasing years is still a first rate character actor and Freddie Highmore who plays the young Max in the reminiscing scenes shows capability beyond his years. Between these 3 actors, and despite Crowe's annoying accent, they make "A Good Year" a lot more than I originally expected.
As previously mentioned, at the directional helm is Ridley Scott a man better known for his big budget, visually impressive blockbusters such as "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner" but one who is equally capable of making toned down films such as "Matchstick Men" and indeed this film. Despite a few problems with making the film drag, he does bring it to life using beautiful imagery and a lot of autumnal colouring to make it easy watching. Plus, the use of a fair amount of humour only adds to "A Good Year" charm instead of detracting from the main emphasis of the storyline.
What really does stand out is a varied choice of soundtrack which helps lift "A Good Year" in moments where it seems to be flagging. Unsurprisingly there is a huge lean towards French songs but then an American or British piece is thrown in to change the tempo. For me hearing "Hey Joe" sung by a French man with a mix of original as well as French lyrics was quite a shock, but an enjoyable one to say the least. Most importantly Scott manages to capture the feel of the story, whether it is focusing on Max here and now or when he's reminiscing about his childhood.
What this all boils down to is that despite some flaws "A Good Year" is a reasonably entertaining movie, which is easy to watch and will make you smile on more than one occasion. It manages to deliver for the most its goal, that of giving the audience a warm, fuzzy feeling but it is also very close to messing the whole thing up leaving the audience wondering why. Whilst Crowe's choice of accent is completely annoying, my biggest issue is that the whole thing feels slight over drawn out, and I am sure a bit of subtle editing would have managed to speed things up without spoiling the overall feeling.