A British investment broker inherits his uncle's chateau and vineyard in Provence, where he spent much of his childhood. He discovers a new laid-back lifestyle as he tries to renovate the estate to be sold.
After years of no contact with his Uncle Henry, London banker and bond trader Max Skinner learns that Henry has died intestate, so Max inherits a château and vineyard in Provence. Max spent part of his childhood there, learning maxims and how to win and lose, and honing his killer instinct (at chess, which serves him well in finance). Max goes to France intent on selling the property. He spends a few days there, getting the property ready to show. Memories, a beautiful woman, and a young American who says she's Henry's illegitimate daughter interrupt his plans. Did Max the boy know things that Max the man has forgotten? Written by
A Good Year is much like Peter Mayle's other books shortish, picturesque, sometimes mouthwatering, generally light and definitely charming.
To that end, this film does the book excellent justice and even manages to make the cinematic transition without losing or adding much in the process. (Max has however become a blend of Wall Street's Gordon Gecco and Capt. Aubrey a cold power hungry cut-throat exterior with a bit of a romantic hedonist hiding a Depardieu-like charming buffoon locked inside.) Sir Ridley Scott makes it clear that the real star here is the Provencal countryside in all of its golden sun soaked glory. Russell is the fulcrum that moves us from one beautiful scene to the next, lightly shuffling and dancing in over-sized pajamas with a suit jacket and a tie for a belt.
And oddly, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
As obvious as the story line is (both in the book and the film) it remains absolutely charming and Crowe's performance is an essential part of what makes it work, hammy or no. He looks great and his trust in Scott as a director allows him to simply have fun here a nice break from all of the heavy (and often heavy handed) Oscar bait bio-pics he's pigeonholed himself into recently.
The rest of the cast is picture perfect. I've been waiting to see when Freddie Highmore would play a young Russell and he's lovely here, big eyed and gracefully gawky as young Max. He holds his own against Albert Finney's lovingly blustery Uncle Henry. Marion Cotillard is gorgeous as Fanny and also sturdy enough to hold her own against both Max and Crowe himself. Abbie Cornish is pretty and sweet and her American accent is damn near perfect. Isabelle Candelier is a colorful counterpoint to Max's stuffy British ways, but it is Didier Bourdon who nearly walks away with the picture. His is a character we haven't seen done a million times before and whose eyes hint at a story equal in richness to the Château itself. Archie Panjabi is Max's assistant, a character created for the film. As the all knowing and mischievously wicked Gemma she appears ready to run away with this picture. (And as always watch for a cameo by Ridley Scott's longtime partner Gianina Facio I won't spoil your fun by telling you where she appears.) Again, there is nothing new or groundbreaking here. It will be compared to Under the Tuscan Sun and a long history of countless other films of this nature an attractive woman or handsome bastard gets in touch with who they really are, gets back to basics and becomes who they were always meant to be.
Forgive me for taking this path, but the wine/film comparisons are inevitable with this one.
Like most of the films made today the fresh elements in this film come from the particular vision of the film maker, the chemistry of the cast and the way all of it can come together in a charming and palatable fashion. In other words, the blending of the key ingredient's.
It all comes down to being a matter of chemistry, craftsmanship and preference. Chemistry causes the grape to ferment and become wine. Craftmanship and experience make that wine something worth drinking. Chemistry amongst the elements of a film story, cast and setting makes these pieces form a cohesive whole. Craftsmanship and experience make it a palatable film.
And the rest is simply a matter of taste.
Though it lacks the crisp originality of a sauvignon blanc, the hipness of a pinot grigio or the bold edginess of a Cabernet, but the elements here come together to make a film that plays pleasantly over the tongue like a decent rose easy to sip and enjoy and given the chance could well leave you with the warm glow of a late summer afternoon.
But enough with the wine clichés! You could easily take advantage of the value of a matinée or opt to wait for DVD, though neither will do the scenery justice. This sweetly charming film will hold up equally well as a date movie, a mid week escape or something that you can take Mom to.
Worth a look.
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