Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Review: A Single Man

A Single Man *** ½
Directed by:
Tom Ford
Written By: Tom Ford & David Scearce based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood.
Starring: Colin Firth (George), Julianne Moore (Charley), Nicholas Hoult (Kenny), Matthew Goode (Jim), Jon Kortajarena (Carlos), Paulette Lamori (Alva), Ginnifer Goodwin (Mrs. Strunk).

George (Colin Firth) is a gay man living in Los Angeles in the early 1960s. He was involved in a relationship with Jim (Matthew Goode) for 16 years, but on a trip home to see his family, Jim dies in a car accident. George receives a terse phone call from Jim’s cousin informing him of the accident, and that the funeral will be for “family only”. Now eight months later, George is unable to deal with the pain and loneliness anymore, and he has decided to kill himself. Most of the action in Tom Ford’s A Single Man takes place over one day – although there are multiple flashbacks to earlier, happier days with Jim.

Firth is perhaps the perfect choice to play George. Firth has always done an excellent job at playing the kind of reserved, British man who keeps his emotions hidden from plain view most of the time, and that fits George perfectly. Although he is living in the liberal enclave of LA, it’s still the 1960s, and homosexuality is not widely accepted by anyone. Jim was his lifeline, his connection to the world that kept George from being too much a dotty old English professor, trapped inside his novels. Now that Jim is gone, George feels empty.

Knowing that he is going to kill himself later in the day, George starts to take a few more chances than normal. He talks to his class about the majority’s fear of the minority, especially if that minority is hidden. Most of the class is probably thinking about communists – this is the height of the Cold War after all – but one student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) seems to understand that George is taking about homosexuals. They two share a conversation later, and George sees much of himself in the younger man.

Perhaps the pivotal scene in the movie takes place that night, when George goes to see his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore). At one point these two slept together, before George really admitted to himself that he was gay. Charley was in love with him though, and has remained in love with him all these years. She married, and had a daughter, but now her husband has left her and her daughter has gone away, and she kills her pain by drowning it in alcohol. George may not even like Charley all that much anymore, but doesn’t have the heart to cut her off. The two share a wonderful scene together that goes from the comic to old hurts coming to the surface in the blink of an eye. Despite the fact that is a small performance, Moore is magnificent in the role, and she brings out the best in Firth as well.

The film is directed by Tom Ford, up until now best known as a fashion designer. He directs the film with supreme style – perhaps too much style, especially in the early scenes when he seems to be experimenting a little too much. But he calms down as the film progresses, and instead of losing the emotional core of the story to stylistic excess, he brings it out wonderfully. His camera certainly does loving linger on the bodies of Goode, and especially Hoult, but this is appropriate because it is the same way George sees them.

A Single Man is a powerful film, a character study of the kind of person we rarely see in the movies. Firth, in his best performance to date, brings this character alive. After watching this movie, it is impossible to forget him.

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