December 30, 2009

Review: Living As 'A Single Man'

"Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty."


A Single Man is definitely one of the most beautiful films of the year. It is simply gorgeous. Every shot and frame is artfully composed and photographed. The film is the directorial debut of famed fashion designer and former Gucci creative director, Tom Ford, from a script by Vancouver lawyer, David Scearce, adapted from the 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel, which Ford rewrote.

Colin Firth (Bridget Jones's Diary) delivers a sensational performance as George Falconer, a lonely, older, gay, English professor mourning the passing of his lover of sixteen years, played by Matthew Goode (Watchmen). He conveys so much wisdom, weariness, and sadness so subtlety with nuance and grace without ever saying very much. The gentle looks and stares he exchanges with others says it all.

Every aspect of the film is stunningly beautiful. True to his profession, Ford injects his own personal themes of style and fashion onto the screen in a way to build and develop the characters. All the actors and actresses look glamorous in a sort of ordinary way that does not overly distract. That is to say, the actors do not so much look like models but regular people who show stunning, model-caliber beauty and grace while being lit and clothed extraordinarily well. The use of lighting and colour is so well composed as Ford shifts from dull grays to colourful hues to evoke feeling and tone. The cinematography and camera transitions flow fluidly with gentle care.

The 1960s California setting at the height of the Cuban missile crisis serves as a nice backdrop to George's malaise. The music by Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi underscores the tragic beauty of the film's tone aptly. All the performances from the supporting cast give off a unique gentle grace. Julianne Moore owns the screen as George's aloof best friend, Charlotte. An all grown up Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) shows a fun curiousity as one of George's students who acts as a kindred spirit.

The narrative is smartly wrapped around George's suicide preparation in a way that unfolds the methodical pace in a well-crafted manner. The way Ford recounts George's life and the painful mourning of his lover is truly touching and evocative of the beauty of human interactions and relationships. The flashbacks are handled with care and are subtlety woven throughout the film. However, the third act and George's final interaction and arc felt slightly adrift. Something felt slightly missing much like George's life. So much of the first two-thirds of the film are so well crafted that the last act drags and wraps up in a way that feels off. The resolution and closing action, while subdued and touching, just lacks a certain charm and understated calculation that propelled the rest of the film so well.

Ford's artistry and deliberate storytelling is mature and thoughtful. It is astounding that A Single Man is a directorial debut from someone outside the film industry. Ford balances style and substance with beautiful imagery that heightens Colin Firth's quiet, mannered performance brilliantly. What the film truly conceptualizes so well is the passing of love, its isolation, the tragedy in the human condition, and the beauty of the smaller, seemingly random moments in life so well.

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