Given his periodic public meltdowns, it's understandable that Russell Crowe might want to make a movie like "A Good Year," a romantic comedy set in the south of France. He plays a competitive London trader named Max Skinner who learns to enjoy the good life.
The film reunites him with director Ridley Scott, who directed him to an Oscar for 2000's "Gladiator." Crowe again plays a gladiator _ of sorts: a stockbroker with killer instincts. He likes life orderly and profitable, which means an existence he can control. When his aged Uncle Henry (Albert Finney) dies, leaving him a vineyard, Max is quick to put it on the market. Yet a visit to the estate changes his mind. Not only do childhood memories come flooding back, he also meets a local restaurateur (Marion Cotillard) whose feisty demeanor captures his heart.
Will Max leave the hustle and bustle of the trading floor for the provincial life? Will he figure out the arrival of a young California woman claiming to be Henry's daughter? Will true love triumph?
Of course it will. Otherwise, it wouldn't be much of a romance.
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This loose adaptation of Peter Mayle's best-selling novel grows on you little by little. Crowe takes to his role with his usual feistiness, and the supporting cast is first-rate. That includes the French countryside, which shimmers like a jewel and resonates with wine, women and song.
There's plenty of convenience here (could Max have met his eventual true love when they were children?) and an odd relationship between Max and the vineyard's caretaker. If most people sassed their boss, they wouldn't stay employed for long.
No matter. The point of "A Good Year" is to explore how places can change people and hearts. We know that this movie is trying to manipulate us, and yet we surrender, as if under the spell of a fine bordeaux.
Extras: Director commentary and an insightful look at life on the set.
"A Good Year" is available on DVD from Fox. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13. $29.98. Grade: B