Monday, February 15, 2010


Directed by Tom Ford

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult

Whether we are aware of it or not, we make our true selves completely invisible to the rest of the world. We do it because it makes life easier. For us and for those around us. Some have more reasons to go about their day unnoticed than others, though. In A Single Man, Colin Firth plays George Falconer, one of those individuals whose life is better led without the secrets in it pouring out.

It's November 30th, 1962, and George is a gay man living in Los Angeles - reason number one for him to wear his invisibility cloak. The second reason is that eight months before, George lost his significant other Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car accident, and this torments him immensely. So much so that he spends that late November day planning his suicide.

The film opens as George awakens from a dream in which Jim is laying cold and dead next to an overturned car. It then follows his morning routine to become the "George" that the outside world knows: a normal, relatively happy college English professor who keeps his distance from his students; who chides fellow associates who speak of taking refuge in home-made bunkers, paranoid Russia will lob the nuclear bomb onto U.S. soil at any given moment. George then spends his day carefully arranging his life so that, when it ends, the people that know him can properly take care of things.

On this, the last day of his life, George takes extra care to notice things he may not have noticed before. His neighbors' interactions with each other, the hands of a clock moving slowly, the smile of a pretty office girl, the exposed muscular torso of a male tennis player. He also does things he may not normally do: instead of talking the assigned Aldous Huxley book with his students he discusses the perceived threat of minorities; he dances to rock and roll with his neighbor and one time London-lover Charley (Julianne Moore); he opens up to a young free-spirited student named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). These experiences change George's perception on the way he has led his life since losing his love - as a depressed, morose, unfulfilled slog who feels even more invisible since the one person who really knew him was taken away.

Tom Ford, the director of A Single Man, is a fashion designer, and it shows in the way he handles the film. Every frame is wonderfully composed and full of texture, color, and wonderful production design. In fact, some of the scenes are almost too well done, lending an almost clinical feel to the look of the film. It's a beautiful - really beautiful film, but Ford tries too hard in places to make it look perfect.

This is corrected, though, by a mesmerizing performance by Colin Firth. I'm not too familiar with Firth's work, but here he is the heart of the film, and whenever a chasm arose between the film and the emotional attachment I had with it, Firth (who has the gargantuan task of being in every single scene) was there to reign me back into the grip of cinema playing out before me.

The performance of Firth and a wonderful score from Abel Korzeniowski (listen to clips here) elevate the film so that even the somewhat obvious and convenient ending packed an emotional wallop - for me, anyway.

A Single Man is a great film, and surely one of the best films of 2010. It's a film that digs deep into your emotional core and takes refuge, so that it's themes, power, and look stick with you for a long, long time.

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