What would happen if Ridley Scott directed Under the Tuscan Sun and replaced Diane Lane with Russell Crowe? You'd have A Good Year, Ridley's new easygoing movie about choosing a life of leisure over a hectic world of hard work and moneymaking. As if that's even an option for most of us.
It is an option for fast-paced, high-rolling, filthy stinking rich stock trader Max Skinner (Russell Crowe); he's just not interested. Max spends his days and nights doing what he loves best: Making money. Everything else falls by the wayside. Until of course, his Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) dies and leaves Max his chateau in France. As a kid Max spent all of his summers there, sitting at the feet of his wise, winemaker Uncle learning about life and loving his aged mentor's vineyards. It's been ten years since he's been back, but now Max is forced to take a break from buying and selling in London to deal with his Uncle's estate. He intends to be in and out of France in under a day, with the Chateau sold to the highest bidder before dark.
Things don't work out as planned, Max misses his plane and gets stuck staying at his departed Uncle's home reliving fond childhood memories and getting in touch with all the passive, squishy emotional stuff that really matters. Before long callous, cold Max Skinner starts showing signs of softening. Will he fall in love with his mansion in beautiful rural France or will he return to his London life of riches and loose women? I think if those are your options, you're doing pretty damned good. I'd be happy with either one.
Max isn't happy, he can't bring himself to pass up an opportunity to make money and at the same time he has a hard time letting go of all those great childhood memories with his Uncle too. Russell Crowe plays all that internal trauma with outward calm. He's great, his performance is layered, but playing Max is almost a waste of his talent. It's such a contrived story. You know where he's headed, you know what he's going to do by the end of the film. There are no surprises here, just another installment in the rich guy (or girl) decides to take it easy in a fantastic European country movie. Crowe's a brilliant actor, but this sort of predictability is better left to the likes of Diane Lane.
That said, A Good Year's an agreeable enough experience. It's the kind of movie you can just sit back, and allow to wash over you. You'll laugh a little, gaze at some pretty scenery, watch beautiful people drink wine. In a way, stories like this are soothing. Too cute? Too artificial? Sure. But Ridley directs the thing with such a steady hand and delivers it with such a pleasant tone, that it's hard to completely hate it. Like Crowe, this sort of paper-thin, been-there-done-that story seems beneath the great Ridley Scott, but whatever. It's a warm and fuzzy little trip. There are worse ways to spend a night at the movies.