REVIEW: A Single Man

8 02 2010

The protagonist of “A Single Man,” George Falconer (Colin Firth), often references moments of clarity, in which he is able to forget the pain of his past and live in the present.  Director Tom Ford does an excellent job of highlighting these moments, and it is here where his first film absolutely glitters.  He has made a movie that stands as one of the most thoroughly beautiful aesthetic achievements in years.  And it isn’t beautiful just to be beautiful – Ford uses all these elements to subtly alert us to the true mood of the scene, but it’s never so subtle that the message is unattainable.

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the film’s events take place on what very well could be the last day of George Falconer’s life.  He has had to mourn the death of his longtime lover Jim (Matthew Goode) in private, thus making him a ticking time bomb of grief, ready to self-destruct at any instant.  George passes through life as little more than a specter, a mere shadow of the charismatic man that once walked in the same loafers.  On this day, no one even seems to suspect anything out of the ordinary.

We follow George as he meticulously attempts to finish his business.  He teaches his english class to a largely insipid and bored college class – with the exception of Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who seems to take an interest not only in the thematic relevance of the class to the real world, but also in George himself.  He has dinner with his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a woman with a high capacity for alcohol and heartbreak.  Yet in the midst of all this, life (or some might call it fate) keeps giving him reminders of why we live.  These fleeting instances of rapture are brilliantly captured by Ford’s lens, and they especially stand out against the bleak canvas of George’s life.

Tom Ford gained renown as a fashion designer for Gucci, and he most certainly had to fashion something beautiful out of something rough at times.  His experience with doing so undoubtedly aided making “A Single Man.”  The movie is a gloomy look at finding meaning in life.  Many filmmakers explored this theme in 2009 to great success – first and foremost, of course, is Jason Reitman with “Up in the Air.”  But George Falconer isn’t really searching for this so much as he is scorning it.

I didn’t really find the movie depressing, although by no means am I saying it is uplifting.  I think I felt this way mostly because I was so engrossed by the stylistic elements of the film.  From top to bottom, the look of the film dazzles.  It is exquisitely shot with a true appreciation for humanity in all forms.  Combined with meticulous editing, the movie flows with a distinctive feel.  It’s to be expected that the costumes and sets in a movie directed by a fashion designer are top-notch, and they spellbind.  As for the sound of the movie, Abel Korzeniowski’s score provides the perfect supplement to some tense emotional moments.

The acting is practically irreproachable as well.  Finally, Colin Firth plays someone other than the charming, lovable romantic figure!  And it’s a welcome divergence.  Firth keeps the grief bubbling under the surface for most of the movie, and he makes George’s journey even more heart-rending with his subdued misery.  Julianne Moore adds some much-needed pep when the movie reaches one of its most melancholy points.  The vivacious character contrasts starkly with the plaintive George, and the performance is all the more effective because of it.  The real acting standout is the young Nicholas Hoult as George’s overly inquisitive pupil, Kenny.  The script only feeds him obsequiously sexually inviting lines, and it’s hard to overcome that.  But Hoult understands the nature of his character and allows him to progress from somewhat creepy to somewhat of a guardian angel for George (look no further than his giant white sweater).

As I mentioned at the beginning, “A Single Man” succeeds in the moments of rapture.  However, great movies are not great because they succeed only in moments.  They are great because they succeed as a whole body of work.  So while Tom Ford’s directorial debut is not great, it’s pretty good.  Emphasis on the word “pretty.”  B+ /

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5 responses

9 02 2010
Aiden R

What a phenomenal movie this was. Totally blew me away and not just because of Firth. Really dug it, wish it had gotten a Best Picture nod at least. F***in’ Blind Side…

9 02 2010
Branden

I knew “The Blind Side” would get a Best Picture nom and not this movie. A crime. A Crime, I tell you!

9 02 2010
Branden

I loved this film. I’m glad that you mentioned the score by Abel Korzeniowski. That score is stuck in my mind. I loved it. I wish it was nominated instead of “Sherlock Holmes”.

9 02 2010
mcarteratthemovies

I’ve heard only good things about Firth in this movie, so I can’t wait to see it this weekend (it finally hit ONE theater near me). Firth is a subtle actor, but he takes a lot of risks in choosing the parts he does.

9 02 2010
Branden

It was only playing in one theater here in Houston. I went opening day.

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