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A Good Year’ alternates between decades, styles

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Russell Crowe has found himself a welcome, albeit surprising, change of pace in Ridley Scott’s latest film, “A Good Year.” The movie chronicles Max Skinner (Crowe), a British investment banker who, through a combination of providence and inheritance, finds himself at a villa in the south of France.

The region’s intoxicating smells, sights and tastes engulf Skinner’s senses, and the film’s soundtrack attempts to have the same effect on the listener. Seemingly alternating between the 1960s and 1940s, the overall feel of this somewhat atypical compilation album makes it a decent addition to the generally mediocre soundtrack library.

The soundtrack opens in a Nora Ephron-type fashion with a Harry Nilsson track, “How Can I Be Sure of You.” The song’s melancholy overtones suggest the opening of the film as well, with Max leading a dissatisfied existence in the corporate world. As usual, Nilsson’s voice borders on overly nasal, but the song itself has an endearing, 1960s-Americana feel to it.

The next three tracks fit together well stylistically, as each song is both in French and easily over 40 years old. The soundtrack’s producers thankfully let these tracks remain free from remastering, and each crack, pop and sizzle adds a touch of nostalgia to their overall feel. The French lyrics, combined with an easygoing, classic aesthetic, contribute to the overall light mood of the songs. The fourth track, “Breezin’ Along With The Breeze” by Josephine Baker, is particularly reminiscent of Baker’s American contemporaries, like Judy Garland or Bing Crosby, in its sweet and simple delivery.

The soundtrack jarringly changes pace on the fifth track – another Nilsson song entitled “Jump Into The Fire.” While an up tempo track isn’t unwelcome, the glaring differences between this song and those that preceded it are more distracting than interesting. Nilsson’s third contribution to the soundtrack, “Gotta Get Up,” has the same effect in the album’s final third, to a lesser extent.

Other highlights of the film’s soundtrack include “The Wedding Samba” by Edmundo Ros & His Orchestra, a fun track with an old-fashioned sweetness to it, “J’Attendrai” by Jean Sablon, a slowly relaxing selection, and Richard Anthony’s very French version of an older classic, “Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini,” a song that doesn’t fail to amuse.

The compilation also makes some departures in tone in its final three tracks, the instrumental score composed by Marc Streitenfeld. The first, “Max-a-million,” changes pace multiple times in its less than five minutes, and its cool, instrumentally-sparse feel seems as though it would fit a James Bond movie rather than a romantic comedy. The second, “Le Coin Perdu,” continues somewhat in the same vein at first, but eventually evolves into a different, more romantic piece.

The closing note of the soundtrack is a piece entitled “Wisdom,” the longest on the soundtrack and seemingly encompassing the journey taken by Crowe’s Max since it began with the insecurities of “How Can I Be Sure of You.” A waltz-like feel and an underlying sense of peaceful relaxation contrasts well with the opening Nilsson song, almost lulling the listener into the type of peaceful slumber that Max inevitable experiences in the film’s Provencal setting.

Both Scott and Crowe are taking noticeable detours from their typical films with “A Good Year,” a move reflected in both the film’s story and soundtrack. Despite the occasional overly jarring transition, an inevitable side effect of most compilation albums, the soundtrack holds its own as a pretty enjoyable listen.