A Good Year

I’m not quite certain I get Ridley Scott. Why did he make A Good Year? Not once did the words “Deckard is a replicant” flash up subliminally for a fraction of a second in the background. Russell Crowe’s character did not dream of a unicorn, nor did Didier Bourdon’s character leave him an origami model of the same.

To Scott’s credit, though, incest is briefly contemplated, if quickly despatched.

In A Good Year, we have a seachange story that is identical to all other sea changes: a man consumed by work comes into contact with his old life, in the idyllic countryside, and realises that something’s lacking.

It plays exactly as you would expect it to, but there are a couple of surprises simply because the trailer didn’t deem it necessary to give them away.

Russell Crowe plays Max Skinner, a stockbroker at a prestigious London firm. His uncle (Albert Finney), the only relative he was ever close to, passed away and left no will. Max has to travel to Provence to examine the estate and then, in typical capitalist workaholic fashion, sell it.
Yet the fates conspire against Max, and he has to spend precisely enough time in Provence to fall in love with it all over again.

It’s an unwilling seachange story exactly like every other unwilling seachange you’ve ever seen or read. The author, Peter Mayle, has forged his career almost entirely on books about expat Britons living in Provence. One suspects that if all of his books were true, then Provence would be home to more British people than it is French.

Where A Good Year goes off the road of expectation is where it both surprises and disappoints. Several of the techniques used by Scott had me shaking my head in horror: he used sped up and repeated footage for comedic effect! I cannot think of one instance where obviously sped up film has not infuriated me. As a prop comedy, with a hideously small car and unpalatable wine as objects of humour, A Good Year is far from acceptable.

Russell Crowe goes through all of three gears for his performance: hard bastard, softening bastard and … soft. His British accent is annoying in its implacability and he forever maintains an air of smugness that’s not quite gone even in time for the film’s foregone conclusion.
The rest of the cast, particularly the very pretty Marion Cotillard, more than adequately fill out their roles, and Abbie Cornish is good as “mystery girl”, one of only two aspects of the film not revealed in the trailer. I didn’t actually recognise her as Abbie Cornish (and, to be fair, I’ve never seen Cornish’s other movies), but she did an excellent job of camouflage nonetheless.

On an almost completely unrelated note, the end credits are something of an embarrassment, and the inclusion of clips from Jacques Tati’s movies at an outdoor event make almost no sense. Again, not what I thought Ridley Scott would throw at me.

I’d say that A Good Year is Ridley Scott’s Match Point, but that would imply a great ignorance on my part and suggest that Match Point was watchable. A Good Year is nice, like taking a bath in sunshine, but Crowe’s permanent smugness and the couple of brutalities committed against the cinematic form render it unessential.

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