Here Comes the Sun
Michael Koresky on A Good Year

Directors aren’t often enough praised for sensitivity in Hollywood filmmaking. Muscularity and efficiency are prized above all. But when a tough-guy director breaks out of his comfort zone to show his lighter touch—to expose his beating heart, if you will—he’s often patted on the head and sent his merry way. Think of all the men that have been laughed off the screen for daring to transgress: Frank Darabont with The Majestic, Curtis Hanson with In Her Shoes, Kathryn Bigelow with The Weight of Water . . . In 2006, Ridley Scott did just that, proving once and for all, no matter how much brain-eating, arrow-shooting, and neck-slicing there’s been in his constantly shifting career of movies for guys who like movies, that when you peel away the scowl and the complete lack of humor, there’s a giggly, squishy teddy bear underneath. The film was A Good Year, and oh what a good year it was—for cinema. Thanks to A Good Year.

Furthermore, it takes a sensitive director to extract the inherent goodness from his actors. In this film, for instance, Scott showed that his muse Russell Crowe was much more than the wait-staff–berating, telephone-throwing, occasionally beer-gutted brawler lummox that many believed him to be. As grouchy investment banker Max Skinner (that skin will slowly be shed over the course of the film), Crowe shows not only that he can compete with the likes of Hollywood’s heavyweight nice guys like Tom Hanks, Josh Hartnett, and Alfred Molina, but that he is also physically able to extend and raise both the left and right side of his mouth up so that the far ends of his lips create creases in his cheeks to help create something that one might deem a human smile. When it happens late in the film, it’s glorious. It’s like the final becoming of a true star, the realization of a promise. Soon, Ridley Scott would go back to enabling Crowe’s swaggering bravado; here he tempered it, giving us a moment of genuine grace.

There’s a scene in A Good Year in which Skinner tumbles in an empty swimming pool, only to be rescued by a beautiful farmhand, played by a pre–La Vie en rose Marion Cotillard. He has arrived in sun-dappled Provence after a long car ride—filled with hilarious GPS mishaps—to his great-grandfather’s vineyard, which he has inherited, and which will become the location of his ultimate redemption. So reliant is he on technology, staring at his cell phone without taking in the gorgeous Mediterranean imagery around him, that he has fallen, and it is indicative of a larger fall about to take place. Soon, he will meet beautifully toothless salt-of-the-earth locals, squish grapes between his meat-ball sized toes like some gargantuan Lucille Ball, reconnect with an estranged uncle (Albert Finney, looking confused as ever), learn to appreciate the finer points of wind-surfing, compose his first musical opus, get to disrobe Cotillard, and jettison the trappings of a hollow, corporate life.* Like A Christmas Carol without the needless supernatural subplot, A Good Year is a tale of redemption in which a miser learns the meaning of happiness. Unfortunately, with the film’s lack of box-office success, the director would soon retreat back to his dark side, leaving moviegoers thirsty for more Scott sweetness. Soon may it return.

*Author didn't see A Good Year.