Film Reviews

A Single Man Tom Ford

Rating - 7/10

Having conquered the world of fashion, Tom Ford enters the world of film with his directorial debut, an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man. At the centre of the film stands Colin Firth, in a performance that has garnered praise almost completely across the board. Though highly stylised to invoke a somewhat beautified 1960’s Los Angeles, it is evident from the outset that Ford’s film is not a frivolous vanity project, but a serious, studied and occasionally brilliant piece of work.

Following protagonist George Falconer’s (Firth) lead, A Single Man moves between the events of the day George plans to commit suicide, and the events that have lead him up to this point, the most important of which being the death of his younger and irreplaceable lover, Jim. Their relationship is explored in necessarily scant (if tender) detail, but it is of course George’s sense of loss and isolation that gives us the most clear indication of just what it is to lose his partner. George, a bespectacled professor, has adopted the mannerisms of a man who has had joyfulness scraped from him inside him: he is serious, obsessively tidy, groomed to perfection and wooden in his mannerisms. With people, even those close to him, he has adopted a coldly intellectual and distant exterior.
As we move through George’s day, we not only assemble pieces of what he has lost, but we also begin to see moments of affirmation: in his appreciation of a secretary’s beauty, or his playful talk with his neighbour’s young daughter, or in his conversations with one of his students, Kenny (played by Nicholas Hoult). In one of the more churlishly stylised turns in the film, these moments are depicted in rich, saturated colour. Once the moment has passed, the picture – and George - loses its vibrancy and returns to a diluted, greyish standard. This crude motif is not the only shortcoming of the film. In fact, it is this crassness and superficiality that is the nub of the film’s weaknesses. In even the most despairing of scenes, the film – and George – remains impeccably stylish. Indeed, when George is told he looks tired, bedraggled and downright “awful” it’s perplexing. He doesn’t. This is the same Firth that had middle-aged women acting like teenagers again, only with bumbling self-deprecating humour now sat alongside an assured intellectualism.
Moreover, when George and Kenny talk, their dialogue is as stilted and clichéd as any decent undergraduate film script (“Sir, do you get high?”, as well as some dubious existential meanderings) and their entire relationship, riddled with self-conscious philosophical exchanges, never really feels convincing until its climax. Undressing in George's house, Hoult at last seems suitably vulnerable; confused and nervous whilst still maintaining the outwardly cocksure confidence of a student. For his part Firth finally adds the creepy qualities his role as an ageing professor falling for his student demands, an element of his performance that is surely notable by its absence in the rest of the film.
Despite this grievance, it is Firth’s performance that has the critics in rapture and it is without question a career best (admittedly, a potentially underwhelming accolade for a man who has given us Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary and What a Girl Wants). Firth’s is a portrait that uncovers a damaged, rigid, but not entirely humourless and very sensual George Falconer. Julianne Moore also turns in a notable performance as Charley; a drunken middle-aged woman plagued by a particularly unforgiving mid-life crisis.
A Single Man is the work of a man with artistic intent and a remarkable eye for a visual set-piece. There are two scenes particularly memorable for their lavish imagery: early on George sits on the toilet observing the neighbour’s family in the garden, a scene shot somewhere between reverie and old family videos that perfectly captures a mix of George’s occupied nostalgia and numbness. Also worthy of mention is George’s encounter with Carlos, played by Jon Kortajarena. It is perhaps fitting that here (Carlos is a Spanish prostitute) Ford invokes Spanish auteur Pedro Almódovar, utilising bold colours, popular imagery and the city’s smoggy red haze to create something gorgeous from a 7/11, a car and a billboard.
Though A Single Man has enough nuances to outweigh criticisms and the film’s emotional punch is not to be dismissed easily, its clumsy visual tricks and occasional sense of shallowness in the face of weighty subject matter prevent this film from being truly memorable.