On a plane, dreaming of a vacation to come, “A Good Year” would be the perfect film to while away the hours before landing. Russell Crowe’s unshaven, boyish countenance would grace the tiny screen. The gorgeous Provence countryside would appear in miniature, bathed in glorious sunlight that might almost erase knowledge of your situation: inescapable confinement high above the ground and unflattering fluorescent lighting.
The high-altitude aspect of this scenario is crucial, because only in a plane are you systematically inhaling enough sub-par, recycled air to make you woozy enough to think the movie is just a little less boring. For “A Good Year,” although stunningly beautiful, is agonizingly predictable.
Russell Crowe is Max, a hugely successful investor who has managed to climb to the top only because he is what his British co-workers would call a prat, a bugger, a pillock, a plonker or a wanker. Max himself declares, at one point in the film, “I’m famously callous, even to the point of being insensitive” (so we hear, Mr. Crowe). When he inherits a vineyard from his estranged late uncle Henry, though, Max must face the truth of what he has become, and the transformation is as banal as it is uninspired.
Though Albert Finney as Uncle Henry is spectacular — with a twinkle in his eye, a fedora on his head and an aphorism always ready up his sleeve — his appearances are confined to flashbacks so drenched in sappy, forced nostalgia that it’s hard to appreciate the witticisms he exhales along with puffs of cigar smoke.
The plot plods along so slowly that there is time every few minutes for Crowe to stop and smell something — a cork, a bottle of ink, chicken shit. This means extended close-ups of his sun-drenched, wistful-looking face and a prolonged (a la Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu”) flashback.
Yet however trite this film is — think moments of beautiful women’s hair blowing in slow motion in the wind — “A Good Year” leaves the viewer with brief memories of the visual splendor of specific scenes, visual quotations from the overall elegance of the movie. The tedium of the plot, in retrospect, is overwhelmed by the image of Max riding a red motorcycle on a dirt road or of a bowl of ripe tomatoes on a rustic wooden table or of the pervasive washed-out colors of terra-cotta clay and cypress leaves.
“A Good Year” is the type of heartwarming movie that has no suspense, yet leaves you with the feeling that all is right with the world. Or at least that all is right for those fortunate few who own vineyards in Provence and have girlfriends that look like actress Marion Cotillard.
Perhaps the question should be, is there a use for another movie about the poor little rich boy who has to choose between a life of wealth in the city and a life of wealth in the country? Is there a reason to watch people being snobby about wine when the movie theater offers only such delicacies as Diet Coke?
Well, yes, for this film is for connoisseurs of beauty, which really means anyone with eyes and a few hours set aside for tranquil observation. And the film might actually make its Yalie viewers put aside that forty and splurge on something a little more Dionysian this weekend.
For like the beauty of the south of France, wine, the “sublime nectar, is simply incapable of lying.”
n A Good Year
Dir: Ridley Scott
Twentieth Century Fox