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A Good Year

A Vintage Unlikely To Please Many Palates

Russell Crowe pulled down his first Oscar in 2000 with his intense performance as the betrayed and aggrieved general Maximus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Hoping for similar magic again, Crowe and Scott have collaborated in The Good Year. It’s a good idea perhaps, but A Good Year is far from stellar, although not bad enough to feed to the lions.

Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is a remarkably gifted bonds trader in the UK and an equally miserable and narcissistic prick. Exactly why Max behaves in such a boorish manner is never really quite clear. He has all the trappings of success: money, power, women, etc. Granted, one might argue that it’s obligatory to behave like an asshole if you have the luxury.

As if Max didn’t have enough to begin with, his uncle, Henry, passes away leaving him with a brilliant French chateau and winery. You’ve gotta love a disgustingly wealthy prick who has yet another gift fall into his lap. Needless to say, Max has zero appreciation for the gift that he has been given and promptly plans to sell the place despite fond childhood memories of the summers he spent there.

Things get complicated as Max digs through old documents that catalyze a cavalcade of reminiscences of the place he loved as a child. This in combination with a fledgling romantic interest in the form of an alluring Frenchwoman and the surprise arrival of a possible relative slow the sale of the property.

Thusly, Max finds himself in a bit of a conundrum. Fortunately, Crowe has the acting chops to ably handle a role like Max Skinner. Skinner is a very different role for Crowe who typically plays the role of a masculine, likable, stand up guy, i.e. his characters in Gladiator, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Man. In contrast, Max is despicable and to Crowe’s credit he does a solid job of portraying him as such. However, there just isn’t much about Max to like and this poses challenges given he’s the main character in the film.

Further complicating things is the infuriating lack of clarity around exactly "why" Max turned out to be such an offensive cad. Director Ridley Scott teases the audience with a multitude of flashbacks; all of which reveal an amazing childhood and loving uncle. One keeps expecting to see something horrific befall young Max to elucidate his present day behavior, but the payoff simply never comes.

In stark contrast to the boorish Max is his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), who is simply charming. Finney is brilliant; this is most unfortunate as his screen time is relatively light. Henry is full of clever quips and enlightened pearls of wisdom. Committed to the vine and quaffing the fruits of his labor, one can’t help but admire Henry’s joie de vivre.

While Crowe and Finney submit fine performances, the direction of A Good Year undermines the film. It seems to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis. At times, it seems the film is trying to be a dark comedy, a drama, and a romantic comedy. In failing to commit to a consistent tone, director Ridley Scott leaves the audience with a film that never seems to find its footing.

It was a bold move on the part of Crowe and Scott to collaborate on something markedly different from what they’ve done in the past, but ultimately A Good Year is an experiment that falls short of good and closer to middling. It’s not Franzia, but not much better either.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars