Not really "A Good Year" for Crowe
Russell Crowe's newest character, Max Skinner, for the movie "A Good Year" is an ass. Plain and simple, no bones about it. Max knows it, and he embraces it. He'll be an ass and he'll get away with it because of his skills and the fact that he doesn't apologize for it.
Ridley Scott's movie adaptation of Peter Mayle's novel by the same name, has Crowe doing a complete turn around. The man known for strong roles -- boxer, gladiator, ship's captain, a hard-boiled detective and, oh ya, himself -- as a man that comes to realize that leisure, love and life are positive aspects to life.
"A Good Year" is a lighthearted jaunt for Max the British businessman through the French countryside with the memories of the past bubbling to the surface with calls from work smothering them once again.
Max works his hardest to get his company the most money possible, screwing over the competition as often as possible. He and his team of lab rats, as he calls them, work in stocks. He floods the market with stocks only to buy them back for the lowest price possible -- a move just barely legal.
He gets word that his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), the man who raised him, has passed away. As Henry's only living relative, Max must head back to the place he called home to tend to the French villa in need of fixing complete with tragic winery. However, he's not up for a sentimental trip. He wants to take care of this blast from the past like his stocks -- sell quickly and get the most money he possibly can.
But two women get in his way. Henry's possible American-born, illegitimate daughter Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish), who would affect sales, and the captivating, restaurant owner Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard), who could affect Max's ability to leave.
Inevitably, Max has to make a decision: Money or life.
"A Good Year" shows the pros and cons to both sides of life where people value their money over their lives. The movie wants people to take a breath, to get off the cell phone or Blackberry, step away from the computer screen, take off the business attire and go outside, drink some wine and sit out in the sun. It's got that good message that gets shown onscreen more than it plays out in real life.
Scott and Crowe try to make the quintessential airy and beautiful flick, but there's some strain. Even as Max completes his transformation from bad guy to good guy, the bad guy is always more believable. The man in a business suit with snarky comments is where Crowe that really shines in the movie, although he does have his sweet moments. But the rest, not-so-much.
The pieces of "A Good Year" fall into place all too simply. Max gets stuck at the villa and his boss sends a message to stay on holiday for a week, the illegit-daughter shows up a day or two after Max has already placed the villa on the market and Max's way of ridding himself of a competitor are too scripted providing solutions that are too easy.
Besides how cliché and simple "A Good Year" happens to be structurally, the acting and the scenery are both wonderful.
The stand out performance actually comes from Freddie Highmore, who plays young Max in the older Max's flashbacks to better days. The "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" alum gets to hone his act chops in a diverse role, since memories bring out the best and worst in people. From a devilish memory involving a chess game, an intelligent summary of winemaking and being a sole loser in a tennis game, Highmore's scenes are the best.
The villa where most of the action is set has a charm to it. Scott gives viewers an interesting view of the estate from Max's perspective as he takes photos for prospective buyers on his camera phone. These photos capture tiny pieces of the grounds while just adding to the beauty of the entire set.
"A Good Year" is like the less than perfect wine that Max's villa now produces, someone, but not everyone, will find the joy in its creation.
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