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20th Century Fox presents
Max: This place just doesn't suit my life.
DVD ReviewAh, Provence! Over the years, both literature and film have touted the restorative power of this sun-drenched region of southern France. Like a miracle elixir, its fine wine, fresh air, and traditional values nourish the soul, and teach cantankerous cosmopolitans to appreciate life's simple pleasures. Author Peter Mayle has carved out a career singing the area's praises, but his nonfiction musings capture the spirit of Provence's residents and lazy lifestyle far better than his novels. And unfortunately, director Ridley Scott drives that point home with his anemic adaptation of Mayle's light-hearted romance, A Good Year. As predictable as a bottle of Beaujolais and pedestrian as brie, this meandering, oddly passionless movie brings nothing new to the table, looking and feeling like any number of similar-themed projects.
From the moment we lay eyes on cutthroat financial trader Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) and witness his unethical business dealings, we know he's ripe for redemption. Far removed from the impressionable lad who summered with his wise and indulgent Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) at his idyllic Provençal estate, Max unwillingly returns to the château and vineyard to settle the old man's affairs after he learns of his death. Bittersweet memories abound as he strolls the grounds and interacts with the caretakers, but harried, hard-hearted Max is nevertheless hell-bent on selling the place and reaping a tidy seven-figure profit. Fate, however, has other plans, and conspires to keep Max on property, so he can hook up with Fanny (Marion Cotillard), a homegrown restaurateur, and size up Christie Roberts (Abbie Cornish), who claims to be Henry's long-lost daughter, and, Max worries, might stake a claim to Henry's estate.
Like Under the Tuscan Sun and French Kiss, A Good Year embraces its European setting—so much so that one can almost smell the lavender fields and taste the salad niçoise—but its story leaves our senses cold. A few funny lines and situations brighten the landscape, but for the most part, the comedy feels forced. So does the love story, even though Crowe and Cotillard produce some palpable chemistry. Embers may smolder, but few sparks fly, making it difficult for viewers to become emotionally invested in the relationship. Though it's refreshing to see Crowe kick up his heels and poke fun at himself, he seems a bit ill-at-ease in this lighter-weight role, and the character's conceit keeps him at arm's length—not a good prescription for what's supposed to be a cozy romantic film.
Just as Crowe plays against type, Scott seems determined to do likewise with his direction. The man who crafted such energetic epics as Gladiator (also with Crowe) and Kingdom of Heaven doesn't flex much muscle here, and as a result, the story ambles instead of trots. A few edgy touches perk up the proceedings now and then, but Scott seems strangely subdued visually, adopting a stolid style more akin to Merchant-Ivory. Running close to two hours, the film is slow even by Provence's languid standards, and—like its main character—needs a swift kick in the bum to get itself on track. Such a jolt, however, never comes.
Though A Good Year strives to be more than a typical romantic comedy, its thin plot and dull characters only inspire ennui. The film isn't as bad as the swill in Uncle Henry's cellar, but it's far from vintage Ridley Scott or Russell Crowe. Like French table wine, it's drinkable, but not memorable.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: The scenery of southern France shares star billing with Russell Crowe, but unfortunately, Fox's fuzzy, jagged transfer on a screener disc relegates it to supporting player status. Vistas lack the breathtaking "wow" factor that's de rigueur for films of this type, and colors seem a tad pale. Contrast is good and print defects are kept to a minimum, but neither can compensate for the poor clarity, which really drags the movie down.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 audio provides subtle surround accents, but never maximizes the multi-channel capabilities. Like most romantic comedies, the mix is front-heavy, but dialogue is always clear and understandable, and the various background songs (spanning jazz, classical, and pop genres) enjoy solid fidelity. Other than that, there's not much to this standard track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Kingdom of Heaven, The Illusionist, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Sideways
4 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein
Layers Switch: 43m:22s
The Russell Crowe & Ridley Scott Promo (02m:30s) gives us a glimpse of the jovial relationship the two men share. Their informal tête-á-tête is superficial at best, but touches upon a few aspects of A Good Year, and the grainy black-and-white film stock and rough editing lend the piece an arty edge the movie itself lacks.
Three trailers, four TV spots, and three self-indulgent music videos from the band Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God (including one that salutes A Good Year) complete the supplements.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA Good Year boasts a fine creative pedigree, but even the talents of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe can't make this trite French dish palatable. A lackluster transfer further hampers their efforts, and relegates this ho-hum film to the rental bin.
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