A Good Year

Lifeless Crowe not to blame for sub-par ‘Year'

Contra Costa TimesNovember 10, 2006 

"A Good Year" is the story of a jerk in an expensive suit who inherits a French chateau, and after a few transformative, sun-soaked weeks under the Provencal sun, becomes a jerk in a ratty bathrobe.

This arrogant, greedy London stockbroker, Max Skinner, is played by Russell Crowe, reteaming with director Ridley Scott for the first time since 2000's Oscar-winning "Gladiator." Although both movies feature lion pits (in this case, the trading floor) and dreamy country estates, they couldn't be more different.

In "A Good Year" machismo is a thing to be gotten ridden of, not celebrated. It's more reminiscent of "Under the Tuscan Sun," but instead of a forlorn Diane Lane renovating a Tuscan farmhouse, ‘Year' gives us the odious Max undergoing a dubious renovation of the soul.

In flashbacks we see young Max (Freddie Highmore) spending his summers with his uncle Henry (Albert Finney). Henry is a jolly fellow, who teaches the young boy to play tennis and appreciate fine wine.

His efforts to teach him to be a good sport are less successful. At some point, Max graduates from merely bratty to boorish.

Nonetheless, when Henry dies, the estate is left to Max. He heads off to France to assess the place's selling potential.

The cure for a man this far gone into Gordon Gekko territory is threefold: First, he must be forced to drive a rented lime green car so small it might be considered a go-cart. Second, he should be forced, literally, to wear the clothes of his cigar chomping, wisdom spouting uncle, triggering reflections on how much Henry appreciated life. Then he must catch a glimpse of the derriere of a feisty French beauty (Marion Cotillard).

The movie was adapted from Peter Mayle's novel of the same name. Scott and Mayle worked together as young men and they remain such good friends that they concocted the idea of the book together.

The story is so thin that one imagines Scott and Mayle devised it in roughly the same amount of time it takes to drink a bottle of wine. There is a sideplot involving a legendary garage wine, but the mystery is so transparent that Inspector Clouseau would have seen through it.

But the book was a best-seller, and the movie, being gentle and easy on the eyes, may well find its own warm reception. Certainly it's built to sell.

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