Rather than a fine vintage, Scott pours box wine

A Good Year

on November 10, 2006 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
When rapacious London investment banker Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) inherits a dilapidated French chateau and vineyard from his Uncle Henry, with whom he has not spoken in years, he is determined to sell the estate, which he used to regularly visit as a child. But his plan is slowly undone as he comes to appreciate the inheritance and eventually finds his way back to the decent person he used to be.

“A Good Year,” based on the novel “A Year in Provence” by Peter Maylle, is an obvious film that hits all the right crowd-pleasing buttons, from its easy moralizing about the joys of country life versus the grim dog-eat-dog city existence to its oh-so-saccharine romance between Max and Fanny (Marion Cotillard from “Big Fish” and “A Very Long Engagement”), a comely French woman whose cynical exterior is soon melted by the Englishman's not-so-hidden charms.

In between there's a subplot involving a young American (Abbie Cornish), who may or may not be Henry's unacknowledged daughter; some sparring between Max and the caretaker of Henry's estate, who lambastes him for betraying his uncle's wishes; and a few other sitcom-like scenarios that, like everything in the movie, are neatly wrapped up or tidily resolved by the film's end. There's no real dramatic meat here or rich character development, which means Crowe can and does happily coast on the surface of a not-so interesting role.

Most of the cast does likewise, though the finely etched and well acted flashbacks involving the eccentric Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) and the young, uncertain Max (“Finding Neverland's” Freddie Highmore) do possess some grit and, refreshingly, showcase messy human emotions. Otherwise, audiences will have to be content with the admittedly lovely Provence landscape and Ridley Scott's slick, superficial direction. Those searching for anything more will be sorely disappointed. Starring Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard and Abbie Cornish. Directed and produced by Ridley Scott. Written by Marc Klein. Drama. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content. A Fox release. Running time: 118 min.

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