You know ruthless bond-trader and self-described “asshole” Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) is due for a reminder of life’s simpler pleasures as soon as the steely grays of his London office are contrasted with the honeyed amber of the rural French château where he grew up. Such visual obviousness is indicative of the overall laziness of A Good Year, Ridley Scott’s exceedingly insipid adaptation of fellow panderer Peter Mayle’s middle-aged-yuppie reverie, filmed apparently for no better reason than to provide cast and crew (but not viewers) with a lush vacation. Perfectly happy running the “lab rat” co-workers at the office or just reveling in his own smarmy unscrupulousness, Max is summoned to the idyllic cottage of his youth by the death of Uncle Henry (Albert Finney), the once-beloved-but-now-forgotten mentor who, remembered in flashbacks, taught young Max (Freddie Highmore) about life, women, and the “sublime nectar” of wine.
Max’s plan is to sell the home and its vineyard pronto so he can go back to screwing rival traders out of millions, but those darn plot contrivances ground him for one week, just enough time for the postcard Frenchness of the provincials to seduce him. Gallic earthiness is embodied by a shrugging groundskeeper (Didier Bourdon) with a sloppy cap and a pup called Tati, a bubbly housekeeper (Isabelle Candelier) who can’t stop grabbing Max’s ass, and a gorgeous waitress (Marion Cotillard) with Spunky Love Interest etched on her forehead. The potentially heritage-usurping arrival of a distant Yankee cousin (Abbie Cornish) barely registers in the dramatic radar, since by then the protagonist has already learned to grow a heart, money can’t compete with the forces of nature, it’s the little things in life that matter, yada, yada, yada.
Always a dexterous polisher of surfaces, Scott would seem an appropriate choice to capture touristic images, yet the antic restlessness of the mise-en-scène denies audiences the simple pleasure of looking at the vistas: The high-pressure cutting exposes the filmmaker’s roots in advertising so patently that, when two characters identify themselves by humorously flashing their clothing brands, the wan jest nearly becomes a declaration of guilt. Leaden in its traveloguing, A Good Year suggests not so much the stirring of a soul as Sir Ridley grinding his teeth behind the camera, grimly muttering “I’m going to be breezy if it kills me, goddamit!”