Monday, May 28, 2012

Director's Spotlight #7.17: Ridley Scott's A Good Year

Every month, Director Spotlight takes a look at an auteur, shines some light on a few items in the director’s body of work, points out what makes them an artist, and shows why some of their films work and some don’t. May’s director is the eternally meticulous Ridley Scott.

Grade: 37 (C)

After a mammoth undertaking like Kingdom of Heaven, it isn’t unreasonable that Ridley Scott might kick back a bit and do a project that’s a little more lightweight. The problem with 2006’s A Good Year isn’t that it’s a lightweight movie. The problem is that it’s a dull romance-comedy with little in the way of romance or comedy. The film was Scott’s first feature with Russell Crowe since their Oscar-winner Gladiator. It’s hard not to wonder whether or not they couldn’t have found anything better than this.

Max Skinner (Crowe) is a  stockbroker in London with little regard for anyone but himself. When his beloved uncle Henry (Albert Finney) dies, he leaves his vineyard in Provence, France to his nephew. Max travels to Provence to sell the vineyard, but he runs into a few things on the way: Christie (Abbie Cornish), Henry’s illegitimate daughter who has a stake in the vineyard, and Fanny (Marion Cotillard), a spirited waitress who Max starts to fall for. Max slowly starts to realize that there’s more to life than money and at this point you know exactly where this film is going.

That plot, however generic, isn’t necessarily a bad movie. The problem is that screenwriter Marc Klein doesn’t give the cast anything funny to say or do. There are plenty of feeble attempts at physical comedy- Russell Crowe in a tiny car! He accidentally runs Marion Cotillard off the road! She bruises her fanny (and her name is Fanny) and later shows a whole crowd what he’s done! A dog just peed on Russell Crowe’s foot! He’s playing tennis and getting really tired! A scorpion just found it’s way into the house! Wine humor! After a while, you get the point: none of this is the least bit humorous, amusing, or charming.

It doesn’t help that Russell Crowe, while a terrific actor with a wider range than some give him credit, is not a naturally comic actor and seems out of place in the film (Colin Firth and Hugh Grant seem like better fits for this material). The romance of A Good Year doesn’t work either, considering how bland and unappealing Crowe’s character is. An about-to-be-huge Cotillard at least animates the film a little bit, but for the most part Crowe’s character seems undeserving of her love or this opportunity.

But what about Scott? Surely the man who made even Black Rain and Hannibal good looking could make this watchable? Well here’s the worst part about A Good Year: with the exception of his usual gift at photographing scenery and capturing shafts of light on film, this is barely recognizable as a part of Scott’s filmography. Gone are the vivid colors and bold choices, replaced by a muted tone in London and a generic middlebrow art-house feel. Scott doesn’t bring the stakes, his craftsmanship doesn’t carry over to comedy, and after a short time the film is overcome by stultifying dullness. I eventually gave up trying to fit this thing into his filmography and started counting the number of glasses of wine in the film (I counted 38). The scenery is nice, but it’s in support of the stalest, blandest comedy on the face of the earth. It’s all scenery, no substance.

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