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A GOOD YEAR – Marc Streitenfeld

November 10, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

If a lead character in a mainstream movie declares “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” at the beginning (and his name isn’t Vince Lombardi), is there any doubt that he will change his mind by the film’s end? No, and I don’t suppose that’s a huge problem. “A Good Year” is a predictable message film, and in this case, I’m okay with that. However, I’m not okay with the fact that the film doesn’t even buy into it’s own message.

The theoretical character from the beginning of my review is indeed the leading character of the film. His name is Max (Russell Crowe), and he is a stock market go-getter with a large staff and a mean streak. He is a perfect “in need of redemption” candidate for the film’s purposes… greedy, selfish, uncaring, with a surprisingly gentle piece of his past buried away under piles of money. When Max learns of the death of the man who raised him, his Uncle Henry (played by Albert Finney in flashbacks), his reaction is basically a shrug. Well, until he learns that he’s inherited Henry’s estate (which includes a wine vineyard), which could bring in a pretty penny.

Max immediately jets off to France to check out the condition of the estate, and declares his plans to sell it. While he’s there, Max very slowly but surely becomes intoxicated with the French atmosphere, the memories of his French past, and especially a French woman (Marion Cotillard). There’s supposed to be some sort of lesson here about how money and a high-speed life is bad for you, that you need to slow down and appreciate the simpler joys in life. I agree, but I don’t think the screenplay and direction does. In terms of editing and story development, things are just as hyper and crazy in France as they are in Max’s office, and there’s a lot of slapstick comedy that just feels out of place. A dog pees on Max’s shoe. Max falls into an empty swimming pool full of dirt and wallows around for a good five minutes making miserable attempts to get out. Max drives around in a miniature car, which the filmmakers obviously think is funny… it is, but only for a few seconds. They stretch the gag for all it’s worth. How is a man supposed to learn to slow down and live in an environment like this?

Still, the movie is superficial fun and occasionally witty, with Crowe’s charismatic leading performance thankfully remaining a bit caustic for the duration of the film… he never turns into a suddenly dull and silent chap who’s just learned an important lesson. Albert Finney makes a strong impression in his handful of scenes, as does Freddie Highmore playing a young Max. There are perhaps too many female characters in the film battling for screen time (perhaps they could’ve combined a couple of these characters into one), but one in particular managed to grab my attention. Archie Panjabi plays Max’s assistant, making constant cell phone calls from his office to update him on this or that. It’s not one of the film’s crucial roles, but Panjabi finds a way to add a remarkably complex maternal element to her portrayal, chiding and guiding Max without ever giving him a logical reason to get the least bit irritated with her.

Numerous composers (all of them somehow involved with Hans Zimmer) were attached to “A Good Year” during preproduction, with Marc Streitenfeld finally ending up with the assignment. “Who is Marc Streitenfeld?” Well, he’s been a musical supervisor on several of director Ridley Scott’s films, and he’s served as music editor on a number of major movies made in the past few years (all of them scored by Zimmer or Harry Gregson-Williams). His work here is a fairly pleasant surprise, a blend of Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone at their most pleasant and playful. Despite a couple of blah techno cues towards the beginning, most of the score is breezy romantic material with a French twist, sometimes with a bit of a pop feel. It’s fun and pleasant, if not quite passionate, but then neither is the movie. There’s a fairly memorable main theme crops up quite a few times, reminiscent of something Hans Zimmer might write for a Jim Brooks film, but by no means a rip-off of anything in particular. Several Harry Nilsson songs appear in the film, along with several French songs from Charles Trenet, Jean Sablon and others. Richard Anthony’s “Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini” plays to amusing effect over the end credits. The soundtrack album from Sony includes about 19 minutes of score spread over three tracks.

The fact that “A Good Year” is something of a disappointment as a film comes as a surprise to me, considering the talent involved. Crowe is a superb actor who generally picks his projects well, and I’ve always felt that director Ridley Scott is at his very best working on more character-driven films like “Gladiator” or “Matchstick Men”, but he just doesn’t seem to care very much about the movie. He and Crowe seem to be having a good time, but they don’t believe in the soppy sap they’re selling, so neither do we. If you’re looking for a pleasant and sometimes funny trip to France with some attractive people, this is a good pick, but don’t expect much substance… this is a far cry from “Sideways”.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • How Can I Be Sure of You (performed by Harry Nilsson) (3:05)
  • Il Faut Du Temps Au Temps (performed by Makali) (2:20)
  • Je Chante (performed by Charles Trenet) (2:46)
  • Breezin’ Along with the Breeze (performed by Josephine Baker) (2:55)
  • Jump Into the Fire (performed by Harry Nilsson) (4:12)
  • The Wedding Samba (performed by Edmundo Ros & His Orchestra) (2:54)
  • Never Ending Song of Love(performed by Delaney & Bonnie) (3:22)
  • Old Cape Cod (performed by Patti Page) (2:49)
  • J’Attendrai (performed by Jean Sablon) (2:56)
  • Gotta Get Up [Demo Version] (performed by Harry Nilsson) (2:15)
  • Le Chant Du Gardian (performed by Tino Rossi) (3:18)
  • Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini (performed by Richard Anthony) (2:26)
  • Max-A-Million (4:55)
  • Le Coin Perdu (5:56)
  • Wisdom (8:26)

Sony Legacy 88697-03065-2 (2006)

Running Time: 54 minutes 35 seconds

Music composed by Marc Streitenfeld. Edited by Christopher Benstead and Del Spiva. Score produced by Marc Streitenfeld and Hans Zimmer.

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