A Good Year
2006Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Russell Crowe, Tom Hollander, Marion Cotillard
hen you produce quality work consistently, some of it is bound to get overlooked. That’s what Russell Crowe could have said last year when Cinderella Man, the second masterpiece resulting from his collaboration with director Ron Howard, was overlooked by the Academy. He’ll need another excuse, however, to explain the inept execution and utter emptiness that plague every frame of his latest project, A Good Year. The film is directed by Ridley Scott, who’s partnering with Crowe produced marvelous results in Gladiator. What we find in A Good Year is a beautiful setting masterfully shot, yet not an ounce of sincere emotion to give it any meaning.
Based very loosely on a novel by Peter Mayle, the film finds Crowe as Max Skinner, a selfish, money-grubbing stockbroker from London who inherits a vineyard in southern France upon the death of his once-beloved Uncle Henry. As laid out in Scott’s film, Max’s life is best characterized by the wasteful seclusion the modern business world affords its most successful members, with all the foibles that B-movie life lessons are built to cure. He just doesn’t understand, you see, that money isn’t everything, and that it actually cannot buy happiness. Who needs love, Max might ask, when there’s just so much money to be made, so many people whose life savings need plundering? Tediously and dryly, Max learns your average Uncle Scrooge morals the hard way.
No film adaptation can possibly be expected to replicate exactly or even very closely the book from which it is adapted. The logistics of the two mediums yield very different possibilities and they must be negotiated independently to be successful. Thus, great film adaptations of great books—Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind—are patently different in literate portrayals, plot specifics, and juxtapositions. However, is a cinematic adaptation still an adaptation if it changes not only plot-level details but also the very spirit of the story? Departing such as Scott’s film does from Mayle’s novel, and with such pallid, bland results, we are left to question why Scott and screenwriter Marc Klein were even attracted to the source material in the first place.
Mayle’s novel, while certainly no masterpiece, succeeded undeniably at one thing—embodying the generally casual, laid-back character of both the British people, and of life in the rural South of France. The book has Max (a busy, over-worked architect this time), as an affable, nonchalant man who doesn’t realize how unsuitable he is for his hectic nine to five job. He thinks he won’t be able to fit in with the serene rural life his uncle left behind for him, but finds to his delight that it’s actually a perfect fit. In Scott’s version, however, Max is a far more stereotypical materialist (hence the transition to stockbroker), who finds a far more unchallenging and vulgarly overused moral at the end of the story.
It isn’t just Max’s character that Scott’s adaptation turns inside-out, upside-down, and shakes into incoherence. His friend Charlie, a realtor in both versions, was created by Mayle as a jovial, genuine admirer of the simple and the pure—despite his predatory day job. But such a contradiction has no place in the film’s cookie-cutter world; instead, Scott casts Charlie (Tom Hollander) as a despicable magnification of Max’s own materialism. With the characters so distorted, it’s no wonder that the narrative has no place to go. Max’s final romance with a local waitress named Fanny (Marion Cotillard) is an exercise in ineptitude, flowering inexplicably from the weeds the film has carelessly strewn. And yet, with even the warmth of this relationship exuding an indelible air of duplicity, the film’s breathtaking scenery is simply a welcome distraction. In the spirit of maudlin, insipid “lessons,” A Good Year proves that not all that glitters is gold.
A Good Year is playing in theatres across the country.
By: Imran J. Syed
Published on: 2006-11-28