More noise than signal

A Good Year

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Like most people, I base the entirety of my knowledge of most things on movies. One thing they’ve yet to adequately explain is the intricacies of the international stock exchange. “Sell”, says a calm, bespectacled head suity type. “SELL! SELL! SELL!!”, screams his army of suits in suitably ludicrous braces, cacophonously shouting to seemingly no-one in particular, often brandishing a rolled-up sheet of A4 as though that’s supposed to explain something. Who are they selling to? You can’t sell something without having some input from a buyer, surely? I can’t magically summon a buyer from the ether just by deciding to sell something, can I? Must be what all the training is for.

I mention this because it’s the bespectacled head suity type we’re interested in with this adaptation of A Year in Provence, the self centred money grabbing asshat wankbadger Max Skinner (Russell Crowe). Having pulled off a borderline illegal, certainly unethical — not that that’s ever a problem for city types — feat of market engineering that makes his company and himself a silly amount of money for no effort whatsoever, his good mood is stymied somewhat by the news that his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) has bought the farm.

While the pursuit of becoming a successful self centred money grabbing asshat wankbadger has meant that he hasn’t even spoken to his Uncle in years, they were once close, as the interspersed flashbacks of a young Max (Freddie Highmore) being taught Henry’s slower paced philosophy of life show. Henry lived a life of wine, women and song, although not so much with the singing, on the vineyard that now passes into Max’s possession. Seeing as the relaxed pace of a provincial French winemaking lifestyle limits the opportunity for controlling armies of suits in suitably ludicrous braces brandishing rolled-up sheets of A4, he decides to tart the place up a little and flog it on for a tidy lump sum.

While he’s out sorting the paperwork, the plot develops, as tends to happen in films. An internal investigation into his whacky stocktrading antics puts him on an unscheduled French holiday, prompting aforementioned memories of his childhood. A romantic interest shows up, as tends to happen in films, the fiery, independent Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), who may or may not be named after a Viz character.

More troubles! Oi, vey! A young American lass, Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish) shows up claiming to be the estranged daughter of Henry, and thus the rightful heir to the vineyard. This would present a problem for Max’s proposed sale, but as I’m sure even the most myopic of readers will have seen by now a far greater danger is Max falling back in love with the quiet life over the hustle, bustle and self obsessed wankbadgery of the City.

A Good Year perhaps isn’t what you’d immediately associate with being a Ridley Scott film, although probably only because on hearing ‘Ridley Scott’ you’ll tend to think of the bleak futurescape of Blade Runner or pitched hack ‘n’ slashery of Gladiator rather than the no less excellent, more intimate works such as Matchstick Men. Nonetheless, mechanically at least there’s almost nothing to fault in A Good Year. The rhythm of life in the slow lane is captured so completely that it’s believable that Max could be seduced by it, and it always looks suitably warm and pretty compared to London’s antiseptic greyness.

You won’t find much wrong with the actors, either. It’s always a pleasure to watch Albert Finney, especially when he’s given license to go off the deep end, and while admittedly there’s nothing here that stretches Russell Crowe he’s as adept at filling out Max’s at times generic character as he is staving in hotel porter’s faces with telephones. While the female characters in the final analysis are little more than a garnish to the main course, they can’t be faulted for it. Didier Bourdon provides some welcome colour and, well, comic relief isn’t quite the right term in a drama as largely light-hearted as this, but it’ll do until a better term presents itself.

Nah, any beef you may have with A Good Year is going to come exclusively from the shocking predictability of Max’s character development, familiar from any number of similar films, TV shows and books often inspired by the same source material. As flaws go, it’s fairly critical, meaning you’re always going to know what Max does some considerable time before he does. If this were a thriller, that alone would be enough to incur our significant displeasure. As it stands, there’s enough mildly interesting characterisation and strong performances for this to be a pleasing diversion for a few hours, but hardly one that demands your immediate attention.

More Posts