You know the feeling: you’ve been working 24/7, you’re stressed out, haven’t got a second to breathe, let alone sniff the effing roses. It’s time for a change. It’s time for a vacation. Ridley Scott knows that feeling too – and whimsical wine-quaffing comedy A Good Year is his busman’s holiday: a little movie made by a big director. The click you hear at the start of A Good Year is Scott’s ego switching off (or, more likely, just going into standby) for the next 118 minutes.
’Course, size is relative, and most struggling filmmakers would kill to have resources like this ‘little’ movie. Need a vineyard in the south of France? You got it. Need Peter Mayle (author of relocation bestseller A Year in Provence) to adapt his own novel? Can do. Albert Finney pencilled in for a supporting role? No probs. Russell Crowe reteaming with Scott for the first time since he strapped on sandals for Gladiator ? All go.
Cynics will say A Good Year is simply an excuse for Scott and Crowe to kick back and backslap in Provence with a few bottles of plonk. They’re right. But at least the filmmaking buddies did some decent work before reaching for the corkscrew. A Good Year’s the kind of undemanding feelgood flick some critics will sniff at. But for all the self-indulgence on display, there’s also the ever-reliable quality of Crowe. It’s Maximus Decimus Meridius does Working Title.
Sending up his bullish, hotel-clerk-bashing tabloid image, Russ delivers a turn that’s honey-glazed like a prime ham: Square Mile posturing (“Today is greedy bastard day”) morphing into fish-out-of-water floundering as power broker Max arrives in France to flog his dead uncle’s estate. In the chateau, every dusty corner prompts a nostalgia trip in which boho dipso Uncle Henry (Albert Finney, effortless) dispenses lessons in wine and manhood. As Max’s hard-nosed priggishness crumbles, Crowe recreates his on-screen persona, wearing half-mast trousers, grinding his teeth on a dodgy plummy accent and getting dunked in a swimming pool full of cow shit. Love him, hate him – you can’t help but laugh at him; the cock-of-the-walk alpha male turning himself into a plain and simple cock for a quick laugh.
After Kingdom Of Heaven ’s box-office nosedive, it’s easy to see this as Scott’s anti-epic, a gentle comedy destined to become a footnote in his filmography, like Spielberg’s Always or Cameron’s Ghosts Of The Abyss. Future film historians may puzzle over Sir Ridley’s reasons for straying off-piste, but chances are this could be exactly the pick-me-up the über-director needs before bouncing back with his Crowe-starring hat-trick American Gangster. Glug away.