Crowe breaks new ground with 'A Good Year'

Dienstag, November 14, 2006 | by: Mat DeKinder

From white-knuckle, blood-and-guts director Ridley Scott and rough-and-tumble actor Russell Crowe, the duo that brought you the slash-and-smash epic "Gladiator," have teamed up again to bring you - -a romantic comedy about a vineyard in France?! Sure, why not?

The result is the odd little film "A Good Year." What makes this movie odd, aside from an actor and director venturing into what could generously be called a departure, is that they managed to make a charming, yet strangely flawed, film.

The plot is about as standard as they come. Crowe stars as Max Skinner, a ruthless stockbroker from London who is as big a jerk as he is a success. He unexpectedly comes to inherit an estate in France, complete with rustic villa and vineyard, from his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney, who is a joy to watch in any role).

As you can expect, Max travels to France with the full intention of selling the place, but a few mishaps and encounters with the locals extend his stay longer than expected and he begins to fondly remember periods of his childhood spent at the villa, as shown in flashback with it-kid actor Freddie Highmore, who you might remember from the title role in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," playing young Max.

Naturally, the caretaker Francis (Didier Bourdon) and his wife Ludivine (Isabelle Candelier) are suspicious of Max and his intentions. And just to spice things up, Max becomes enchanted with a brash and bold local waitress, Fanny Chenal (beautiful French actress Marion Cotillard), a ridiculous name probably stolen from a James Bond script.

But just when Max finds the estate and Fanny to be growing on him, a young American girl named Christine (Abbie Cornish) shows up claiming that Uncle Henry was her father, which means the whole lot could belong to her.

Ultimately this is all pretty standard stuff. Max's cold, callous exterior begins to melt away and by the end of the movie we're all better people. The film smacks of professionalism, with Crowe and Scott bringing their A-game, which is why I find it odd that the plot is kind of a mess. The main conflict involving Christine's claim to the estate and the fact that the vineyard produces terrible wine is a muddy conceit. And the resolution requires a few leaps of logic, not the least of which are believing that Crowe and Cotillard are anywhere near the same age.

But the plot is really secondary as romance and the exquisite French countryside are the true driving force behind the movie. It's more of a picture-postcard than a film and if it doesn't want to make you want to retire to France and drink wine the rest of your life. then you were probably born without a soul.

I hesitate to call this movie a romantic comedy, since there are very few jokes, although there is one pretty good running gag that involves the taunting of French bicyclists. More than anything else, the movie is pleasant, like a golden sunset or a walk in a garden with your favorite person.

Scott and Crowe show off their sensitive sides by not really sweating the details. If you can get past the sloppy plot you'll find a movie that's as joyful and fleeting as a good bottle of wine.

"A Good Year" is rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content.

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