Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is a high-powered, workaholic, London investment banker who has little time for anything besides making money. He learns that his favorite uncle from his youth has passed away, leaving Max his chateau and small vineyard in Provence. Seeing his inheritance as yet another means to make a quick Euro, he treks off to France to sell the place in “A Good Year.”
Young Max (Freddie Highmore) loved spending his summers with his eccentric and loving Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) who taught the boy to appreciate life’s finer things, including the wines produced by his vineyard. Twenty-five years later, Max is a ruthless, take-no-prisoners financier working in the rarefied atmosphere of London’s banking business. His latest coup netted his customers a cool 77 million pounds but his unscrupulous methods have drawn the attention of the powers that be. At the same time, he learns that Henry has died and left him the beloved chateau of his boyhood days.
Faced with the prospect of being discredited by others in London’s banking industry, Max decides to take a day or two off to travel to Provence and sell his inherited property. When he arrives, though, he finds the place in woeful disrepair. This news is exacerbated by the appearance of the gruff vintner of the estate, Monsieur Duflot (Didier Bourdon), who claims that Henry promised him that he would always keep control of the vineyard. Compounding this revelation is the arrival of American Christie (Abbie Cornish), a beauty who claims that she is Henry’s illegitimate daughter (and Max’s cousin). While he ponders these new situations, he falls for a gorgeous local café owner, Fanny (Marion Cotillard). Max doesn’t know it but he is about to embrace a world that is the diametric opposite to his affluent banker’s life.
We’ve been here before (and better) with the charming stranger-in-a-strange-land tale, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” starring the equally charming Diane Lane. That story brings the unhappy divorcee to the land of the Tuscans, in Italy, where she falls in love with a beautiful but rustic old villa. “A Good Life” is a remarkably similar story directed by Ridley Scott and adapted from Peter Mayle’s best-selling novel, but one lacking the warmth and allure of the earlier film. The problem, I think, lay in casting Russell Crowe as the central character in this fish-out-of-water story. While Crowe excels as a dramatic actor and action hero, he is out of his element as a man who falls for the chateau, Provence and, especially, Fanny. The actor doesn’t have what it takes to give the whimsical performance that the “A Good Life” deserves.
This is too bad considering the quality of the supporting cast surrounding the Aussie superstar. Albert Finney, in a cameo role as influential Uncle Henry, embodies the sophistication of the winemaker and lover of life. His appearances are all too brief and, unfortunately, kept in flashback to Max’s boyhood. Young Australian actress Abbie Cornish exhibits the same screen presence she showed in her first starring perf in 2004’s “Somersault.” As Henry’s daughter, Christie, she is the personification of kindness and love, wanting to know, better, her father, but making no claim to the property that, in France, should be hers. Marion Cotillard is dead on as the proprietor of a café whose guard against romantic relationships is worn down as Max realizes that happiness in life is far more important than making a bunch of money. Didier Bourdon, the stubborn M. Duflot, also has a solid presence as the surly winemaker with an important secret. This fine cast overshadows the film’s out of place star.
The bland, very predictable story has tech credits that are too good for the tale that is told (from Marc Klein’s adaptation). Cinematographer Philippe Lesourd helps make the Provence locale beautiful and appealing. Production designer Sonja Klaus gives the old chateau and vineyard its own personality and a place I wouldn’t mind living in. The production quality overshadows the predictable screenplay.
A Good Year” is a forgettable film that I forgot I saw just a day after screening it. It is little more than a lark for director Scott and star Crowe. They may have had a good time making the film, but I can’t say I did while watching it. I give it a C-.Laura:
Laura did not see this film.
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