A Single Man
Colin Firth Gives One of the Year’s Best Performances
Friday, December 25, 2009
Credit: The Weinstein Company
Film critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss A Single Man on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
Who would have thought that a fashion designer making his feature film debut would deliver one of the year's best films but that's exactly what Tom Ford has done with "A Single Man" (opens December 25 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas). You can also listen to our Film Club of the Air discussion about the film.
Based on the 1964 novel of the same title by Christopher Isherwood, "A Single Man" concerns George Falconer (Colin Firth), a 52 year old British college professor still suffering depression after the sudden death of his long time partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). Set in Los Angeles in 1962, the film captures a mix of moods. There’s the tension of the Cuban missile crisis but also a sense of innocence since it is just before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. George is trying to find meaning to his life. Jim’s death has left him devastated. He dwells on the past and cannot see a future.
The film follows him through a day of seemingly unexceptional events. He goes through the motions of teaching and socially interacting with others but his mind seems elsewhere. He meets up with Charley (Julianne Moore), an old close friend who also finds herself alone and contemplating a solitary future. But then George is approached by a young student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who sparks some life in George. Then the film and fate deliver a bitterly ironic twist.
On one level, “A Single Man” is depressing. George, for much of the film, is consumed by thoughts of suicide as he copes not only with loneliness but also with a deep sense loss and seemingly inconsolable grief. He manages to function well in the world so others don’t realize the depth of his pain. But on another level, the film is exhilarating because it is so well done and it reveals a fresh new talent in Tom Ford (who wrote, directed and produced).
Coming from the fashion world you would expect “A Single Man” to be well designed and it is. “A Single Man” has some of the year’s best production design and along with “A Serious Man” it captures a time period better than anything else this year. The clothes, the make up, the homes, and the glasses they drink out of – all of it contributes to an exquisite sense of period detail. So I just want to emphasize that the perfection of the film’s design and execution is inspiring even if the material is something of a downer. So don’t stay away because it sounds like a grim tale.
The film also has the year’s best performance by an actor. This year had quite a number of fine male performances -- Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker,” Ben Foster in “The Messenger,” Christoph Waltz in “Inglorious Basterds” -- but Firth edges out with the best. With grace, elegance, and subtle skill, Firth delivers a work of impressive understatement and honesty. He’s well matched by Julianne Moore whose Charley offers different shadings on similar themes of loss and loneliness, but her character is touched more by regret. The brighter energy in the film comes from Matthew Goode as Jim and Nicholas Hoult as Kenny as George’s past and possibly future love interests. It’s a fine ensemble with everyone working in perfect sync with each other.
Some may find the film too artfully done but Ford’s attention to detail ultimately pays off. He succeeds best at capturing and conveying George’s subjective point of view. Allowing viewer to get into a character’s head to know what’s going on is no easy task yet Ford’s shot selection, direction, and script allow us entry into George’s mind.
“A Single Man” (rated R for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content) has no special effects, no shiny bells and whistles to lure viewers in. But in some ways the emotional nuances and flawless attention to detail on display in “A Single Man” is a rarity that’s as impressive as any state of the art special effects. So if you want some stylish, compelling, and intelligent filmmaking this holiday, go see “A Single Man.”
Companion viewing: “A Serious Man,” “’Night Mother,” “Gods and Monsters," "Savage Grace”
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