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A Good Year
cast: Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore, Tom Hollander, and Marion Cotillard

director: Ridley Scott

118 minutes (12) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
A curiosity this, director and star reunited after Gladiator, for a no-brain feel-good movie (based on a novel by Peter Mayle) set in rural France and filmed there, in Vauclose, and in London, the financial capital of the world.

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe, Master And Commander, Cinderella Man) a predictably named investment broker, or parasite as we say here, sells sells sells, then buys buys buys, which, believe it or not, breaks some code that he and fellow parasites adhere to in the city. Needing to lie low under a phoney-baloney suspension, while his activities are investigated, Max is informed that his Uncle Henry has passed away intestate, and under French law the latter's estate will pass to him, as his Uncle's only surviving relative.

Max, who never takes a holiday, decides to check the estate out, under remote guidance from his pal Charlie (Tom Hollander, Pirates Of The Caribbean), with a view to selling the place and its vineyards. Once there, Max relives childhood memories of Uncle Henry, played by the great Albert Finney (Ocean's Twelve, Big Fish), who could do this stuff with a bag over his head and still act everyone else off the screen.

And that, dear viewer, is pretty much that, except that Max falls for a local café owner played by Marion Cotillard (also Big Fish), and his cousin Christie (Abbie Cornish, Candy) arrives, who, as Uncle Henry's illegitimate daughter, would have a stronger claim on the estate.

There's nothing wrong with this film that a glass of the warm south while watching it won't enhance. Crowe gives a quirky performance, mincing around hi-tech London as the predatory Skinner, slobbing-out as Max in France, flinging himself about in the slapstick that passes for light comedy, or else mugging and muttering to himself in a pale imitation of Cary Grant in Arsenic & Old Lace. Ridley Scott can't do comedy on this evidence, but it doesn't really matter, but both he and his editor deserve a slap for thinking the audience will find it hysterical that the characters perpetually make insulting asides about their companions sotto voce, or that the sight of a car whizzing around and around a roundabout will have us rolling in the aisles.

Plot-wise there are some inconsistencies, red herrings, or just echoes of what hit the cutting-room floor. Uncle Henry's vintner Duflot (Didier Bourdon) has a spiritual connection with his vines, but the wine he produces is piss; allusions are made to a wonderful 'boutique' wine with mysterious origins, we suspect Duflot will turn out to be its creator but this never transpires; Christie after contracting severe burns while sunbathing has to be tended by Max's pal Charlie, but in the morning she blithely tosses a rucksack on her back without so much as a hey and a ho, the wind and the rain.

Not a bad diversion for just-under two hours, and only really to be avoided if you can't abide Russell Crowe. The special features have music videos, trailers, a Scott and Crowe promo, and as the main deal Postcards From Provence, behind the scenes video featurettes and commentary from the director, and the screenwriter Marc Klein (Serendipity).

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