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:: A Good Year

Can Russell Crowe really do a Hugh Grant? And we’re not talking a sleazy, early morning drive through LA’s red-light district. We’re talking about the other predilection that Hugh Grant is famous for – you know, the bumbling about in an awfully charming manner, using wit and self-deprecating humour to be the latest in a long line of lovable bastards to from Ol’ Blighty. That is the question posed by Ridley Scott's latest offering A Good Year which has Crowe playing Max Skinner, an unscrupulous bonds trader in London who is called to France when inherits his dead uncle’s chateau. Faster than you can say baguette, he is plonked in the South of France, which is shot so beautifully and reverently that you half expect angles playing harps to descend from the silver-lined clouds. Will Max’s cold heart be melted by the dreamy landscape and locals who fall into two distinct French stereotypes of either the very eccentric and the very beautiful?

The question hardly matters as you are simply meant to savour the sumptuousness of the surrounds, not matter how light and fluffy they are. A minor complication does occur when Max’s long lost cousin Christie (Abbie Cornish, so focussed on her American accent that she rarely blinks) arrives on the doorstep and challenges the validity of his inheritance. There is also the suggestion of a romance between the two, which is thankfully disposed of quickly, proving that while the film strives to be European, it doesn’t want to be that European. Marion Cotillard provides the obligatory love interest, but as sassy as she is, her part is woefully underwritten. There is also some sub-par wine fetishism as Max tries to revive the chateau’s terminal grape crop.

And then there’s the big man himself. There’s something to be said for casting against type, but in this case it seems to blow up in their faces. Crowe has a presence and an image these days that is virtually inescapable. Seeing him lumbering about in tennis whites and tortoise-shell glasses is akin to seeing a plumber trying to fit in at a launch party for The New Yorker. He is undeniably a great actor, but this is simply not a role that best makes use of his talents. When you have a plot as thin as the one contained here, you better hope that your characters are engaging and charming. Unfortunately, A Good Year is as bland and uninspiring as the grapes on Max’s vineyard.