A Single Man
Tom Ford’s A Single Man was a giant risk for most those involved. It was a risk for Ford, a beginner film maker and script adapter. A risk taking a staple of homosexual fiction and turning in to something possibly trite and decidedly unworthy. A risk for Colin Firth who may have alienated his rom-com following, or presenting as unable to carry a serious role. Okay, so it wasn’t a risk for Julianne Moore who has no dignity any more (remember Savage Grace?). However, those that ventured the most, certainly gained the most. A Single Man is that quiet, understated film that you wait for, every year, during the awards season.
The story of A Single Man comes from the novel of the same name by Christopher Irsherwood. Mr. Ford shares writing credit with David Scearce for adapting. It centers around one man, George, played by Colin Firth. George is a mostly unremarkable man, an intelligent professor at a small college. The most remarkable thing about him, surrounded by a community of intolerance at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, where everyone looks and dresses the same, is his sexual orientation. He’s reeling from the loss of Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of sixteen years. The grief builds and builds and is quickly taking over all rational thought for George.
The film spans only one day, but lends itself to multiple flashbacks: the night he met Jim the first time, happier days, dream sequences. Many of these flashbacks could be ripped out of the pages of Vogue, or another high-end fashion magazine (or an upscale homo-erotic publication, likely centered around a smoking fetish). The vision of Ford seemed to be perfectly paired with cinematographer Eduard Grau who gave the film a polished touched that sets it apart from it’s peers. A sweeping original score by Abel Korzeniowski compounds this effect. Mr. Firth is in fine form here. In fact, this may be a career high for him. He’s proved once and for all that he can handle the trickiest of roles.
A Single Man weaves its story with a slow, but confident pace. The emphasis is not simply on a plot arc, but is an examination of a tortured man. Using the word ‘tortured’ brings to mind cliches and worn out devices. I promise, this is not the case here. First time director Ford shows a remarkable amount of promise. His well placed instincts are served best by his cast, of whom he gets the most. One of the film’s most remarkable scenes plays out between George and his friend Charly (Julianne Moore). A quiet dinner, between two lonely souls who’ve had too much to drink, allows a brutal honesty to rage before quickly hiding itself again behind tact and manner. It’s a prime example of all the emotions running just below the surface through the length of the movie, just dying to be set free. Certainly, one of the best films of 2009.