Fanny: No Max, it’s your life that doesn’t suit this place ..
This little bit of the dialogue from the 2006 Ridley Scott film, A Good Year, might say more about the directorial effort than the film itself. Many critics have said that this film wants to be a rom/com but is neither funny nor particularly romantic. They further state that Scott is out of his element in doing this type of film.
The former I don’t agree with, and the latter I do agree with, but, when you take a look at the movie as a whole, for sure it is a beautiful film to look at, and it certainly pleased this viewer.
Yes it is true that when we look at Ridley Scott’s portfolio,; his Cinematic CV, we do find Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, and Robin Hood. All of these films were heavy on action and laughs were non-existent. That is Scott’s pedigree. But even if we say that this film was off the mark with its slapstick humor, and even if we agree that the romantic elements seemed to be more on the side of attraction and passion and less so about romance, that still leaves you with more plusses than minuses.
Probably, the reason I decided to watch and review A Good Year now was because I had just seen The Next Few Days, well … a few days ago, and Russell Crowe was fresh in my mind. Though Gladiator was a 2000 release, and A Good Year was a 2006 release, Crowe was still doing a Max. While General Maximus rallied his Roman legions in Germania, Max Skinner rallied his ‘troops’ on the trading floor of a large financial firm in London. Max calls them ‘lab rats’.
In the London segments, Crowe looked and acted every bit the rogue trader who wasn’t enamoured of playing by all the rules, who traded with a take no prisoners attitude, and had long ago had been told by his Uncle Henry (played wonderfully by Albert Finney), after a tennis game :
You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, uh… how much more enjoyable it is to win. It’s inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it.
So Max was a ruthless trader. When he received a letter from France that announced the death of his beloved Uncle Henry, and with no other living heirs, Max inherited the chateau and estate. Max then set out for the south of France, with the intent of selling off the property – the home, the land, and the vineyards, as quickly as possible.
That was the plan. Only Max didn’t count on the feelings that swelled within him as he recalled his own life and times in that very place via flashback with the young Max played amiably by Freddy Highmoor.
But things do not go as planned. There were complications: Like Max loving the place –
Like Max meeting the town belle, Fanny Chenal, and becoming smitten –
Like the arrival of Christie Roberts who was Uncle Henry’s illegitimate daughter.
Not everything in the film worked. For example many of the visual jokes were either broad or farcial and didn’t elicit many laughs. A dog peeing on a man’s leg, or a belly flop into a swimming pool no longer filled with water which had been replaced with mud, and his struggles to escape from this pool. Then there was the overlong tennis match, and the French Wine Inspector who so theatrically over-acted, that he was ludicrous.
Crowe was much more adept as the trading floor general than he was when he had to toss off a funny one liner. Either his timing or his intonation just didn’t seem right. And it didn’t help that he had the worst haircut/ hair style in the history of filmdom’s leading men, along with the fact that he also had to wear clothes that neither fit, nor were stylish.
I guess when he was suspended by the stock exchange for a week, and he decided to remain in France for that week, it just wasn’t possible for him to buy some new clothes. See, not everything worked.
But there was plenty to please you. First was Marian Cotillard as the beautiful Fanny Chenal. Christie Roberts (the illegitimate daughter) was also beautiful and she was played by the Australian Abbie Cornish. Then there were the caretakers of the chateau, estate, and vineyards : Didier Bordon as Francis Duflot, and his wife Ludivine Duflot played by Isabelle Candelier. These two were marvelous and walked off with every scene they appeared in.
I’ll also mention Archie Panjabi who played Max’s assistant Gemma back in London. Now here was someone whose comic timing was superb.
Above all was the absolutely breath-taking French countryside in Provence. For sure, Ridley Scott had a great sense of what to show you when he wanted to show you a perfect shot, again and again throughout this film I loved it when I was there in the late 1980’s, and I loved it when I revisited again in the movies and art. I even did a piece about it in this blog called Googoogajoob. Seemingly forever, people have been remarking about the beautiful sunlight in this part of the world – which is of course, the by-product of clean air. If you’ve not been there, this film might persuade you to go.
On the whole, the film is entertaining. While Russell Crowe certainly fared better as General Maximus in Gladiator than he did here as Max Skinner, as a viewer, A Good Year will provide you with some fine visuals, an acceptable story, and some fine performances by the cast, most of which, Crowe and Cotillard aside, you will not be familiar with.