Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe made a bloody good show out of Gladiator and instantly revived the types of swords-and-sandals epic that hadn’t been seen much in 40 years. It also revived the fortunes of director Scott, whose sole success in 20 years had been Alien but the years following had been equally hit and miss. So maybe it was the underwhelming response to Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven that made him seek out his old Gladiator-mate, but maybe some things are best left as is because A Good Year is as underwhelming as anything can be.
Meet Max Skinner (Crowe), a real piece-of-work day trader living in London, but of course, he wasn’t always a five-alarm jerk. Back as a kid (Freddie Highmore), he spent time with his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) on a vineyard in southern France and life was beautiful and full of possibility. But Max fell out with Henry after some unidentified strife and the two haven’t spoken in years. After a particularly profitable day, Max learns that Henry has died and as Henry’s closet living relative he gets the vineyard and all the rest. Since a life in France conflicts with Max’s existence as a rich bastard in London, he immediately sets about plans to sell everything, only to find himself sucked back into the life that enchanted him so.
Exactly what is here that hasn’t been done in a movie before? Well, just about nothing actually. Considering the substantial talents of both Scott and Crowe, you’d think that this proceeding would be something more than average, but A Good Year is totally mundane. I think half the movies ever made have been about some guy who realizes that his life could be more if he wasn’t part of the rat race or lived to make money, it would have been nice if there was something different done here. This also has to be one of those few times that Crowe doesn’t overcome the material and throw himself into the part.
It’s too bad considering that all the other actors are doing top-notch work. Finney is marvelous as Uncle Henry; Didier Bourdon and Isabelle Candelier are wonderful as the married couple who keep up the vineyard; Marion Cotillard is luminescent as Max’s love interest; and all the attention Abbie Cornish’s been getting as the woman that may have broke up Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon should be directed toward the fact that she’s a promising young actress. The countryside of Provence is lovingly shot by cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd so the movie is nice to look at, but you’d have to be pretty dim to not be able to make the French countryside beautiful.
The problems with the movie are mostly script-based; it’s completely and totally predictable as what fate befalls Max, his friends, and the vineyard. Given the fact that screenwriter Marc Klein’s last film was the romantic-comedy Serendipity, which was rather charming and inventive for a rom-com, I wouldn’t have expected something this horribly average.