Director Tom Ford's "A Single Man" is an astonishing debut film. Before this he worked as a fashion designer for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and the close attention to detail throughout this film gives it the distinct feel of having been directed by a fashion designer. The art direction is impeccable with every single frame staged like it's about to be photographed. Ford uses close-ups on facial features of certain characters when they talk with an interchanging sharp and fuzzy focus. The color palette in the film is for the most part subdued while in some moments the colors noticeably pop into life to accentuate an interaction taking place. Every flourish that can be found amongst this deliberate art design makes this highly personal film all the more endearing. It may not be perfect, but it has beauty within its passion and sorrow to make it something unforgettable.
The centerpiece of the film is grief. George Falconer (Colin Firth) is an English professor from London who teaches in Los Angeles in 1962, and he is the single man. He has lost his lover of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode), to a tragic car accident. To George, Jim is irreplaceable, the one and only love in his life. It's been eight months since Jim's death, and yet George still struggles to wake up every morning. When he looks in the mirror he sees not his face looking back at him but "the expression of a predicament," as he states. He's lived his days in a haze, but for this one day, this 24-hour period to which the film is devoted, George vows to make this a changed day for today he wants to do something different. Based off Christopher Irshwood's 1964 novel, Tom Ford has lovingly adapted this source material into a deeply resonant and moving film that ever so subtly speaks to the lifestyle of gay men having to be "invisible" in the 1960s. For George, all of his emotions have to either be bottled up or explored inside of his imagination. We're shown these glimpses into George and Jim's life together in a series of elegant and touching flashbacks.
Throughout the course of George's day, he contemplates suicide yet puts on a face that is genial and formal on the outside. Colin Firth plays a man with an overly glamorized exterior to make up for his broken-hearted, crumbling interior, and his delivery is one of the stand-out male performances of 2009. Firth alone is enough to highly recommend this film. Consider the moment where George finds out the news of his lover over the phone. He plays up his politeness all the while holding back his true emotions. The camera lingers on his pain for a while allowing us to soak up this devastating instant and to relish in this amazing portrayal.
Julianne Moore plays George's best friend and once-lover, Charlotte or Charley, and she is wonderful. Her shining moment comes during an evening of drinking with George when she drunkenly confesses her deeper feelings for her dear friend. She becomes a woman shattered by her own singleness due to a divorce from her husband and equally shattered by the fading promise of George being more than a friend, a promise for which she had longed. There is also an almost fanciful blooming relationship between George and a student of his named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult of "About a Boy"). This young student finds something relatable in George and wishes for something outside of the lecture hall, and Hoult in the part is mesmerizing.
With a sultry musical score tying it all together, "A Single Man" buries deep into a meditation on the past, present, future, and grief from which there appears to be no return. The passing of time becomes ominous with frequent shots of clocks and the sound of them constantly ticking away. And yet there's a bout of optimism with an appreciation for the small moments in life, the moments where you feel like you truly are, at some intimate level, connecting with another person.