Russell Crowe, re-imagined as Cary Grant

PopcornReel.com Movie Review: "A Good Year"

By Omar P.L. Moore/November 10, 2006

Reminiscing: Russell Crowe plays Max, a Cary Grant-esque lovable rogue with charm and panache; Albert Finney is great as Max's uncle Henry, pictured with Freddie Highmore, who plays young Max, in Ridley Scott's funny, witty and charmingly entertaining "A Good Year".  (All photos: Rico Torres/20th Century Fox)

Whatever some people may say about Russell Crowe, one thing that cannot be denied is that he is one of the greatest actors of his generation.  He is compelling, intense, and precise.  He has a litany of work that would make any actor proud.  In Ridley Scott he has a director who is excellent at image makeovers -- and for almost two hours Scott softens the image of Mr. Crowe, both as a rugged actor and as complex off-screen personality in the nostalgic "A Good Year", which firmly revises Crowe into Cary Grant. 

"A Good Year" is a jaunty comedy that has a 1960's-feel to it and that is not by accident -- it seems that the title itself -- principally referring to wine and its age, also refers to a time of playful innocence and fun -- much like some of Grant's films, such as Charade in which he starred with Audrey Hepburn.  Crowe has a lovable roguish flair and appeal about him here as Max, a ruthless, aggressive stockbroker boss from England who sends the markets in London up and down on a furious trading spree, frustrating his rivals.  He is reviled and despised (euphemistically, of course!) by everyone (except his lawyer) we find out early on in this humorous film, and he is soon summoned to the French countryside with news that his estranged and yet beloved Uncle Henry (wonderfully played by the great Albert Finney) has passed and left his prized vineyard estate to Max, whose intention (in the tradition of his stockbroker occupation) is to sell it.  Max's assistant Gemma (Archie Panjabi), a very attractive woman, shepherds him through the French countryside from London via her Treo 600 device (an ever present commodity in "A Good Year") and essentially saves Max from himself, as he gets into one clumsy mishap after another.

Besides being lost in France, Max is a charming playboy whose ladies' man qualities are showcased in abundance, although some of the women he encounters give him a run for his money -- two of them do, in fact.  One is Christie (Australian actor Abbie Cornish) who claims to be the daughter -- illegitimate or otherwise -- of Henry, thereby claiming that she has a rightful entitlement to the wine estate that Max wants to sell.  Their interplay is fraught with both a mistrust and a sexual tension that percolates but remains unexploded and carefully guarded.  The other woman is Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard) who entrances Max.  Fanny has reasons to be mad at Max, and has a reason to call him Mad Max.  She shows him (and half of the restaurant that she is a waitress for) the reason, and it sets off the small quiet community buzzing.  Max has to struggle with several decisions about his life -- and both women as well as his dear departed uncle and the vineyard estate, are indispensable keys to the decision making process.  "A Good Year" uses the confluence of these dilemmas against the dueling expanse of the French countryside, and the frenetic breakneck confines of a dreary London business world.

Eyes on the prize(s)?: Abbie Cornish as Christie, has her eye on the vineyard estate which Max (Russell Crowe) motorbikes through, (right).  Does she have her eye on Max too? 

There are some predictable moments in "A Good Year" and although the film seems to be ordinary for the first half hour, it gathers pace under Mr. Scott's ironically languid direction and obvious admiration for the romantic allures of France.  If the film feels very French, it's not just because it is set there, but because the director himself happens to live in the French countryside -- so for Mr. Scott, the British-born filmmaker, coming home never felt so good, and in "A Good Year" it shows -- and the audience can feel it.  The nostalgia of "A Good Year" leaves us with reasons to smile, as do the performances in particular by Mr. Crowe, Ms. Cotillard, Mr. Finney, Ms. Panjabi and Tom Hollander (who plays Max's lawyer Charlie.)  Also of note are the great performances by Didier Bourdon and Isabelle Candelier (who play the Duflots, a married French couple who were young Max's vineyard garden tender and housekeeper respectively).  Abbie Cornish is also a revelation as the woman who may or may not be related to Max and Henry.  Freddie Highmore (of "Finding Neverland") does well as young Max.

There is a nostalgia (and hunger) for this kind of film today -- and the closing credits are very much in the tradition of a playful 1960's film, something that the British-born Cary Grant would have starred in, as would Audrey Hepburn.  It seems that "A Good Year", which is a great viewing experience is as much about Ridley Scott's fond remembrances of innocent, playful times as it is about the story itself, which is based on the book by Peter Mayle.  Marc Klein's adaptation for the screen crackles to life and the music is priceless.  The soundtrack will surely be one that pleases the ear.  One thing that the ladies of the movie audience might not be so pleased with is the little of Mr. Crowe that they are able to see without clothing on.  For most of the men however, reward is granted, courtesy of numerous shots of semi-nude or scantily-clad women sunbathing, dancing seductively, showing cleavage or getting into all manner of predicaments.  This is not a criticism of Mr. Scott -- it is not even a comment so much on sexism in film, as it is a harkening back to an era and a place in film, specifically European film, where an openness and carefree attitude about sex, suggestion and expression reigns very much supreme, even today. 

That said, Mr. Crowe, a native New Zealander (many believe albeit in error, that he is originally from Australia) is at his best here when he trades delightful barbs with his acting cohorts, as well as uttering quiet little witty comments to himself.  Indeed, it is in the quiet moments where "A Good Year" excels mightily, much more so than in its large ones.  Crowe's character's English accent, dialect and witticisms are a delight, as is the other British vernacular in "A Good Year".  The French-accented banter is also a treat, as are some choice words about Lance Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour De France victories, about which Max never fails to remind some of the cycling locals he encounters on his travels.

One final note: the cinematography by Philippe Le Sourd is beautiful, but when you have such picturesque visions anything your camera captures will make you an even better photographer than you already are.  The glory of "A Good Year" is that it is a greatly enjoyable, colorful and lightly farcical viewing experience.

Marion Cotillard as Fanny Chenal in "A Good Year".


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"A Good Year" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for language and some sexual content.  The film's duration is one hour and 58 minutes, and worth almost every single priceless one.