A Good Year ***1/2
While we know exactly how it will turn out, "A Good Year" is a delightful experience. A romantic comedy by Ridley Scott, the director of such epics as "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner." The surprise is that he directs his romance film with such expertise that it felt like it's been directing romance for years. And it was nice to see the switch. I like Ridley Scott immensely. He directed my pick for 2003's best film "Matchstick Men," and I always thought that he did better with the lighter fare And it was great to see Russell Crowe in a straight performance, instead of donning boxing gloves or giant metal armor.
"A Good Year" has Crowe star as Max Skinner, a thirtysomething year old investor whose latest actions have cost many people millions of dollars, but left him rich and happy. Sadly, this action is about to be investigated, and Max could be screwed. Max also finds out some tragic news about his family, where his Uncle Henry died. Henry was the cause of comfort for Max when he was a boy, and he spent his most magical summers in France with him-playing test, tasting wine, and even experiencing his very first kiss. Max learns that his uncle left him everything, since he never updated his will. So Max inherits the country house, the vineyard, the grapes. . .everything. Max is at the state where he doesn't like to think with his heart, and only plans on visiting the estate to take photographs and then sell to the highest bidder. He isn't the type of man who holds on to things from his childhood, and certainly never plans on taking a vacation. While Max is there he experiences some comedic difficulties which all seem to lead him to almost crashing into the beautiful French woman Fanny Chenal. While taking more photos of the property he ends up falling into the hole where the swimming pool used to be, which is when he learns that Chenal has ties to the property. She leaves him in the muddy hole, making his miss his flight, and forcing him to stay a little bit longer. It's not much longer until Christie Roberts knocks on the door, claiming to be Henry's daughter. While Max begins to bond with her, he also finds a love interest in Fanny, making him reconsider his original plans to sell the villa. He begins to learn what it's like to sit back and enjoy life, and has to make a decision between money or memories.
Crowe is at the top of his game here, and he certainly does turn on his wit and charm to make Max Skinner a likable man, especially towards the end, where the big decisions have to be made. But the main highlight of "A Good Year" is the cinematography and the locations. Scott actually shot in the French countryside, and it's a beautiful sight to see. Every single shot is bright and lucid, making this the ideal place for anyone to have a vacation. The main flaw in "A Good Year" is that, yes, it is extremely predictable. You know exactly how this story is going to fare out, but it's done so well that that doesn't matter. It's funny, sweet, and as enjoyable as any film I've seen this year. The love story is acceptable, and Marion Cotillard is as beautiful as the scenery. Scott knows how to tell a story, and he knows how to do it well. In this case he manages to take a retired out tale, and mold it into something that was given the appearance of something fresh and something new. The soundtrack is bursting with some haunting and magical tunes to add to the fun. "A Good Year" is not one of the year's best, or even one of the most memorable, but it's alot of fun, and certainly worth seeing. And in the end, I kind of want Ridley Scott to stay away from the best epics and take part in some more light hearted fare like this-he really is quite good at it.