“A Single Man,” fashion designer Tom Ford’s striking debut, has been slowly gathering buzz as it travels the film festival circuit. At the Venice International Film Festival, the movie which stars Colin Firth, was nominated for the Golden Lion and Firth was awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. Shortly, thereafter, following its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was the subject of an intense bidding war ultimately won by The Weinstein Company. Though TWC secured the US distribution rights for a hefty $1-2 million sum, there is no doubt in my mind that the money was well spent. “A Single Man” is likely to attract a lot of attention this upcoming awards season. Hit the jump for my review.
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel of the same name, “A Single Man” is the story of one day in the life of George Falconer, a middle-aged gay Englishman working as a college literature professor in California and trying to cope with the recent death of Jim, his partner of 16 years. George’s struggle to reconcile with living without Jim provides the film’s main conflict though, notably, it a conflict that goes unrecognized by almost every other character in the film.
Therein lies the film’s major conceit, George literally lives in a glass house but he, himself, is quite opaque. He may live in California but, since the movie takes place in 1962 on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he must keep his sexuality well-hidden and with it the wrenching pain of a lost love. Though he is unable to express it, that pain drives him closer and closer to taking desperate, deadly action. The uncertainty of whether or not he will go through with his plan effectively creates a sense of foreboding that weighs over the film and makes an otherwise cerebral character drama tense and gripping.
Anchoring the film is Firth. He dives into the character and delivers a performance both stirring and restrained. Julianne Moore finally returns from the purgatory of “Freedomland” and “Blindness” to deliver a convincing turn as Charley, George’s longtime friend and former lover. Matthew Goode is equally good in flashbacks as the dear departed Jim. Last, but certainly not least, is Nicholas Hoult, all grown up from “About a Boy,” who disappears into the quiet, insistent Kenny, one of George’s students who has more than a passing interest in his professor.
Ford shot this movie so well, and in only 21 days, that it is almost impossible to believe that he is a first time director. An especially nice touch is Ford’s use of color to indicate George’s mood. At times tones are muted with the chill of his despondency but when he is happy the screen seems to burst with light and color. The sets, designed by the production team from “Mad Men,” thoroughly recreate the era and the score, courtesy of Abel Korzeniowski, may sometimes approach being overwrought but is largely spot on.
“A Single Man” is a thoughtful meditation on two dueling constants in life, love and fear. At one point in the film George proclaims that what he truly treasures is feeling connected to another person to the point that he can stop thinking and just feel. Preventing that happiness is the fear of exposing his homosexuality not to mention the fear of betraying Jim’s memory. But, conversely, cannot that fear be overcome? After all, what is life without that connection? I won’t give away the film’s answer but I will say this, the last scene will stay with you.
“A Single Man” will be out in limited release December 11 and wide release next January.