Review: A Single Man


You won’t find a more visually immaculate film than “A Single Man.” Gucci frontman Tom Ford’s film debut is something out of an inch-thick fashion magazine. His eye for beauty and sensuality might be unparalleled in Hollywood with just this one entry. Applied to the story of a man torn apart inside with the loss of his lover as he tries to get through a normal day, “A Single Man” gets directly inside its protagonist’s head with a barrage of emotion-evoking imagery. Although it sometimes feels like a cologne commercial, it’s a remarkable first effort and a touching story commanded gracefully by Colin Firth.

Firth stars as George, a British English professor living in 1960s L.A. whose partner, Jim, (Matthew Goode) has died in a car accident. Months later, having never been fully able to mourn Jim’s death because he wasn’t invited to the “family only” funeral, George finds the daily grind of his lonely life unendurable. The film takes place on the day during which George has planned his suicide and the emotional roller coaster that just one day brings between sensory reminders of Jim and other feelings of desire suppressed by his melancholia.

Taking place in a day in addition to a series of short flashbacks, “A Single Man” isn’t an eventful film, but more an artistic approach to grief and wrestling with the past. A smell or an object brings on a new memory where Ford slows the film down and focuses on some sensual or sexual detail that he lets linger before the camera, all while Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski pours on some gorgeous strings. The stirring melodies of the score are so crucial to the success of a script that relies so much on storytelling through visual detail where otherwise silence would prevail.

Surprisingly for a rookie filmmaker, Ford seems to have mastered the close-up. He’s fascinated by eyes and lips (as well as the nude male form) and although the film is not explicitly sexual, the tension is so thick. George encounters co-workers, strangers and a young student (Nicholas Hoult) in particular that are attractive to him and we connect with this subconscious thought because of Ford’s technique. Gay or straight or somewhere in between, he draws such incredible attention to the beauty in his film and plucks an innate sexual chord in the minds of the audience. The sexuality is beautiful, touching a times — not forced and visceral — all shown through very deliberate and specific shots. You see exactly what Tom wants you to and you’re with him from shot to shot.

Not every sensory moment feels deeply connected to the story and so “A Single Man” does seem to meander at times, but Firth’s performance never lets us stray from the emotional journey he’s enduring on the inside. From the first heartbreaking flashback where he gets the fateful phone call to his thoughts about the handsome young Kenny who has developed a crush for his professor, there’s never a moment when we’re closed off to George. Julianne Moore, playing George’s longtime friend and one-time fling, pulls off the same feat in her brief screen time, reminding us that even though George is gay and his circumstances unique, loss, loneliness and being unable to put aside the past are universal obstacles on life’s journey.

“A Single Man” is an art film, not a drama where the conflict is visible and explicit, rather internal and quiet. It is a film visually driven by pristine art direction, sets and costumes in addition to the beautiful cast members. It is a must-see for anyone with a taste that leans toward independent film, in particular imagery and visual symbolism.

4/5 Stars

A Single Man
Directed by: Tom Ford
Written by: Tom Ford, David Scearce, Christopher Isherwood (novel)
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode


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