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A Good Year

August 30, 2010

A Good Year (2006)
Director: Ridley Scott
Actors: Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish

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Synopsis: Max Skinner (Russell Crowe), a ruthless City trader, has his conscience pricked when going to the South of France to sell off his deceased uncle’s estate.

Review: A Good Year is one of those films where everyone in the production evidently had much more fun than any intended audience was ever likely to, with the story that Ridley Scott (and screenwriter, Marc Klein) have devised being so transparently a rich man’s fantasy – from his own highly hermetic, privileged frame of reference. Not only does the film betray Scott’s complete remoteness from everyday life, but it’s also a laughably unattractive, inadvertent parable of smug Anglo-Saxon cultural colonialism: the wonders of Provence are conceived of in only a clichéd, ‘English’ view (the chateau inherited by main character, Max, is a palatial marvel) and the French characters are all stereotypes (parochial, earthy and ‘feisty’.) The English characters are almost entirely detestable (which isn’t entirely Scott’s plan), and the scenario fails to create any tangible sense of pathos for Max: so we’re supposed to feel sorry for him just because his uncle – who he hadn’t seen in over ten years – has died and bequeathed him this goldmine of a Provençal chateau?! Sob, sob. And the nostalgia hook has no real pathos either as Albert Finney’s uncle is so evidently a louche, misogynistic old boy. And even the dilemma at the end has no real catharsis: all Max has to choose between is a multi-million pound redundancy package and life in Provençal luxury or a multi-million pound salary and the prestige of partner status in his investment bank. First world problems, eh?! It’s not that cinema isn’t able to dramatise the inner-lives of middle/upper-class people – in fact, there’s a good story somewhere in this mess of a film – but it would need far more sincere and exacting treatment than Scott accords it here to tease the potential out.

Adding to the film’s pot pourri of problems is Russell Crowe. He’s usually a reliable and outstanding performer – but he’s no comic character actor, certainly when he’s meant to be playing a British toff! His early punchlines in the City of London scene while he’s making his killing all miss their target painfully – though it’s not helped by the woeful writing by Mark Klein where all the drama is ‘end-gained’ and rushed through in a matter of minutes, making it not even the least bit believable. Even Archie Panjabi – usually such a classy presence in the films she’s in – is stuck behind a pointless and stupidly mannered ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ Indian accent.

The ‘wacky’ French car skit is probably the pièce de résistance of Scott’s overall naffness, though in the second half of the film, there are one or two more charming elements in the relaxed fringes of the story – usually featuring Tom Hollander and/or Abbie Cornish – and there are a couple of nice gags about the Americans and wine (and hats off to Scott for fitting a cricket reference in!) (August 2010)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gat Sumner permalink
    January 5, 2011 9:28 pm

    An interesting and accurate appraisal. I remember seeing a TV interview of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s own appraisal of the film, and Scott claimed he was trying to clearly convey the distinct differences but equal appeal of each of the “lives” that Skinner ends up torn between. I agree that he makes a rather clumsy effort of Skinner’s London “life”. Thought the “kid” Skinner was good, and the musical score must always be applauded. Keep up the good work!

    • January 6, 2011 9:22 pm

      Cheers mate! As a critic there’s a lot to pick holes in with A Good Year – but I really like the sentiment of the film. And I actually think the film gets kind of good in the second half when it’s set almost entirely in Provence. Not convinced by the Marion Cotillard love interest hook, but the scenes with Tom Hollander and Abby Cornish (and particularly the flashbacks with Finney & Freddie Highmore – “the kid”) are actually quite good! And agreed on the musical score too…

  2. Gat Sumner permalink
    January 28, 2011 8:31 pm

    I’ve just remembered – it wasn’t a TV show that I saw Scott and Crowe on – it was from the ‘extras’ section of the DVD!

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