After their Oscar-winning collaboration on 'Gladiator', it seemed only natural that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe would reunite for a new project. What is a surprise, however, is their choice of material. Adapted from Peter Mayle's novel of the same name, 'A Good Year' sees the director and actor opting for a lightness of touch which neither has previously been famous for. But that's not a criticism: this is a sweet and likeable film, two things which are always in short supply.
Raised by his uncle Henry (Finney) in his vineyard in Provence, Max (Crowe) has turned into the exact type of man his guardian would have hurled rotten grapes at. After working his way through college in the UK and falling out with Henry, Max has become one of the most infamous traders in the Square Mile – an arrogant, boorish know-it-all with no time for anyone who isn't of use to him.
When Henry passes away, Max as his sole heir inherits the vineyard but is more focussed on a quick sale than admitting any feelings of sadness or remorse. Leaving behind the safety of his plush office, he travels to Provence for the night to sign some legal papers but gets sidetracked and ends up staying longer than he wanted. Or has he? Could his time away from the deals, the pressure and what he's let himself become be the best thing that's ever happened to him?
While Crowe is no master of gentle comedy and the ending isn’t allowed to mature like it could, you'd need to be as uppity as Max not to have a soft spot for the charms of 'A Good Year'. With the beautiful cinematography and scenery, the tourist board in Provence has received the type of advertising that no promotional budget could buy – you just hope they can cope with the (further) deluges of tourists who'll arrive after seeing this film.
While 'Matchstick Men', Scott's 2003 film, also showed his sensitive side, this study of love, being true to yourself and knowing when less is more stays in the heart and mind longer. Even with Crowe somewhat miscast in the lead role, the other performances compensate: Cotillard is enchanting as the headstrong waitress Max falls for; Bourdon and Candelier sparkle as the husband-and-wife who look after the vineyard and Finney shows, once again, why we need to see far more of him.
If you need an antidote to a winter's evening, this is the one to take. It won't last forever, but then Provence isn't a million miles away.