A SINGLE MAN
Starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore
Directed by Tom Ford
Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, is a study in contrasts: lusciously arty and achingly overwrought; remarkably assured, but lacking confidence; and heart-wrenchingly real, yet thinly veiled in artifice.
It’s the early 1960s, and George (Colin Firth in the defining role of his career) is a buttoned-up, closeted, gay professor immersed in a quagmire of depression and mourning almost a year after the sudden death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). Having decided to kill himself, he sets about his last day on earth with a renewed yet resigned purpose. He packs his gun, goes to work, cleans out his desk, does the banking, and neatly lays out his burial clothes.
Confident in his decision, George allows himself a few small flirtations and last moments of human connection. He attends a bittersweet dinner party with his best friend Charlotte (a brave and unsparing Julianne Moore), who’s always carried a torch for him, he shares a cigarette in a parking lot with a handsome hustler (model Jon Kortajarena), and flirts with a baby-faced student (Nicholas Hoult, losing the fight against his British accent) who follows him home.
Ford’s vision for his creation is flawless, and his trust in his actors is handsomely rewarded with powerful performances. His belief in himself as a director, however, seems shaky. Ford’s major stumble is his continued insistence on needlessly manipulating the audience’s emotions. The majority of A Single Man is shot in flat colours, but for extended flashbacks or stretches where George is happy, Ford switches to saturated images, often accompanied by swelling strings. In the school of show-don’t-tell, this device has all the subtlety of an instruction manual.
It’s a shame because if the effects were used sparingly, A Single Man would be so much more than a very pretty face. ★★★—Andrea Warner