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Good Year, A

Fox // PG-13 // February 27, 2007
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 27, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Ridley Scott has a devastating capacity to craft beauty within truly treacherous scenarios. The man's visually crisp eye can make crashed helicopters, gothic Roman duels, and futuristic dilapidations striking enough to adorn walls as art. Spilling emotion amidst spilling blood is second nature from the weathered director. Give him a beautiful scenic locale and a sugary story filled with compassion, however, and it proves to be a struggle to scrape together greatness. Toss in his mainstay player Russell Crowe as a warming, nostalgic businessman and thus surfaces A Good Year, a stilted yet enjoyably whimsical venture into the winding vineyards of Provence.

The Film:

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) works with fiscal numbers, "lab rat" sales associates, and tremendous amounts of capital inflow. Atop his social pipeline in beautiful industrial London, the bachelor has ensnared everything (and everyone) he could tangibly want by embracing his apathetic, cold persona. Perfectly aware of himself, Max achieves greatness without a true sense of charisma or anyone close to share in his success.

London's premiere fiscal shark has a much warmer past, however. An echo of previous delight as a young boy begins to flicker as a letter arrives notifying him of his late Uncle Henry's (Albert Finney) passing. His uncle looked after young Max (Freddie Highmore) on his winding Provencal vineyards during his youthful summers, teaching him the simple pleasures of whimsical living, gracious defeat, and fruits of the earth. Without much warning, Max has the past dropped in his lap as he discovers his lineage as the sole blood relative and inheritor of the wondrous vineyard.

His harsh, satisfying life scrapes to a halt as he schedules a rapid sign-and-sell procedure in Provence for the estate. Once he arrives, all of the countryside's striking allures ensnare Max once again; most radiant of all being the presence of an enchanting waitress in a local restaurant. Trotting between a connect-the-dots map of memorial discovery, Max starts to bask in the warmth of the only home he ever knew. When circumstances deem him to stick around the provincial paradise for a few days, the true splendor of a forgotten past pours its way back into his heart. Amidst the memories of his uncle, a war over the land with the groundskeeper, and a blooming passion, he retreads to a long lost part of himself.

A Good Year plays out like a very light blend of Cinema Paradiso's prodigal nostalgia and Sideways' root of self discovery amidst nature's intoxicating nectar. This film, however, boasts an amusing surface-level sweetness that goes no deeper with its flavor. Sounding more like a dare than a cinematic idea, the two glistening stars from Gladiator fumble a bit while trying to lend their inherent appeal to such a down-to-earth scenario. Though not flawless with execution, they carry this sublime literary adaptation of Peter Mayle's novel "A Year in Provence" well on their shoulders.

Even with Crowe's ginger feet amidst this new comedic genre, his garish Skinner still musters up a few stark chuckles. As a blaringly exaggerated corporate shark, Crowe nails the part as a delightful caricature with a razor sharp tongue. As to be assumed, the subdued, pensive moments are where Crowe's natural dramtic talent glisten in the French sun. He success with humor, as does much of the rest of the cast, reflects on the quality of the script's dialogue. Though so sweet it induces toothaches here and there, the screenplay delivers some truly fantastic lines of pure, distinct humor.

The supportive cast guides A Good Year along its clever tracks with gradual grace. Albert Finney and Freddy Highmore give the film its strongest prolific sparks as the younger boys Skinner. There's almost enough charm in that pair's rapport and humor in Crowe's overdrawn inheritor to make this film a true delight. Plus, the exchanges between Skinner and his secretary (Archie Panjabi) keep this connection between him and his tumultuously pleasing life in London grippingly comical.

Visually, A Good Year is deliciously vivid. Two desirable realms, the metropolitan elegance of London and the flavorful resonance of France, create a legitimately problematical argument for the torn Max. Some of the shots Ridley Scott and his cinematographers capture are astoundingly breathtaking. It would take such a visual heaven to lure the shark from his cold sea. Accompanying this encapsulating visual grandeur is a uniquely edgy score. Atypical for such a film, the rhythmic and fluctuating score is quite appealing. The splendid, smile-inducing demeanor has plenty of support reciprocating from this elegant aural presentation.

Alas, does A Good Year achieve the level of grandiose benchmarked by Sir Ridley Scott's best films? Not quite. Scott's archetypical aptitude lies within crafting moments of true dramatic empathy amidst battle weathered tension. A Good Year is a valiant, witty attempt to deviate from such a formula. Even with a director and lead actor clearly removed from their comfort zone, A Good Year still serves up a pleasant enough bouquet that's undoubtedly worth the sugary taste, glass by glass.

The DVD:

The Video:

Here's a testament to the true beauty of this film. A Good Year's visual onslaught of colors, scenery, and vivid Provencial architecture still shined well through Fox's notoriously atrocious screener transfer. Detail was muddy, digitized, and clearly not a final product. Certainly, such a delightful, visually pleasing film will receive a cleaner official transfer once the DVD has been released.

The Audio:

A Good Year boasts a rich, wispy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation. Most prominent is the terrific musical score. The thumps and graceful notes all sounded quite sublime on this audio track. Where it suffers here and there is in audible dialogue. Though it's evident in only in a few scenes, such as the family dinner scene and the conversation with the local French lawyer, the dialogue could have been a bit crisper. However, the majority of this rich Dolby track sounded terrific. French and Spanish Dolby Surround tracks are available, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras:

The host of extras on this single-disc DVD might prove to be quite pleasing for fans of the film:

A uniquely exquisite feature called Postcards from Provence is included. The desire for Making Of Featurettes and Directoral Commentaries has become quite mainstream amongst DVD enthusiasts. Here, Ridley Scott has taken both elements and tossed them in a blender to create a wonderful hybrid experience. Though a seemingly normal audio commentary at the start, once Ridley kicks into gear and starts discussing the content of the film, in comes a new visual portion documenting the crafting of a scene. Untraditional, yet quite uniquely stellar, this hybrid is a very nice accompanying piece. Sadly, those that are traditionalists will have to watch the production (though it has chapter listings) with both the commentary and the making of portions. Those interested should be pleased with this great, focused insight into numerous scenes in the film (for example, a discussion of the effect of water pressure and its flooding capabilities over time into a pool is discussed during one portion).

The Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott promo is a short, basic clip featuring the two conversing about the film. Though it's not very long, it captures both Scott and Crowe in some very candid moments that display their natural rapport.

An array of Trailers and TV Spots is included, encapsulating theatrical and International differences. Also included are trailers for Kingdom of Heaven, The Illusionist, Master and Commander, and Sideways.

Finally, a few of Russell Crowe's band Music Videos are included set to some of the backdrops (or similar color schemed settings).


Final Thoughts:

It's difficult for either Russell Crowe or director Ridley Scott to go wrong, especially when in collaboration. A Good Year is no exception, though it's to a lesser degree than the pair are accustomed. Crowe invokes genuinely amusing humor and naturally pensive moments set within a light, amusing romantic comedy. This Provencial confection from Ridley Scott comes easily Recommended for those looking for a beautifully shot, whimsically protrayed romantic comedy that adorns one of the most notoriously rugged dramatic actors with a soft spot.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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