Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Film Review - A Single Man

Film #13 of 2010 - A Single Man

Great romances have been documented throughout the first century of film, to varying degrees of effectiveness, with different levels of intensity and involving more than just the relationship between a man and a woman. The romance in Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man is beautiful, devastating and extremely memorable.

A Single Man stars Colin Firth as George, an English professor who has been spending the last 10 months trying to cope with the sudden and accidental death of his lover of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode). Though he is regimented about his day, and meticulous in all aspects of his life, his grief continues to be crippling, and along with the fact that he has remained closeted, he has completely cut himself off from every human relationship other than that of his best friend and former lover Charley (Julianne Moore), a boozy fellow Brit who is still clinging to the hope that their teen-era relationship will resurface, now that the “distraction” of Jim is gone.

The story takes place in 1962, and Ford completely nails everything about the era, without being “obvious”. I knew that as a fashion designer, Ford would have an acute visual eye for directing, but my expectations were completely exceeded. Though A Single Man is beautifully composed and artfully filmed, the key word in describing it is “subtlety”. Everything about the film is subtle: the attention to detail in the clothing, hair and even makeup, the muted cinematography that one may not even notice until George makes a connection with someone and suddenly the colors in the scene become more vivid; as if the sun came out for a moment or two, then is gone. Even the romance between George and Jim is subtle. They had a relationship that probably would be disgusting to most other people during that time, but it was sweet and loving, and no different from any other perfect, long-term relationship. They were like an old married couple, and were clearly deeply in love with one another; which makes the abrupt end of the relationship so much more devastating. Ford handles the romance with dignity and respect, and doesn’t make it a big deal that it’s two men; their gender is completely irrelevant.

Perhaps the most subtle aspect of the film is Firth’s performance. Though the film itself was amazing, and I can think of many elements to praise, it was Firth that sells it. He is the embodiment of sadness and quiet dignity, and relays all of the myriad emotions the character goes through; grief, loneliness, terror, even happiness, with absolutely no histrionics or grandstanding. His is not a performance that traditionally wins Oscars; there was nothing flashy about it, or over-the-top dramatics. However, it was his performance that made my heart hurt throughout most of the film, and it was he who had me in tears for about 10 minutes after the film ended.

Despite my personal reaction to it, A Single Man is not a huge tear jerker in the conventional sense, and rather than being really depressing it actually is kind of optimistic, if you look deeply into it. And the beauty of this film is that if you “get” the film, and see it for what it is – an amazing character-driven film, you will want to dig deeper. Firth should get the Oscar for this film. And I really hope that Tom Ford has decided that directing is his new calling, because he is a natural at it. A Single Man is one of the best films I’ve seen in months, and though I know it will be overlooked, it should be recognized as an Oscar contender for Best Picture.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

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