Rated R for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content, 99 minutes
Thoughtful, exquisite "A Single Man" an acting tour-de-force
"A Single Man" is one of this year's best, most thoughtful and insightful films. What's remarkable is that "A Single Man" is directed and written by fashion designer Tom Ford in his first film. Ford skillfully helms a film that features an acting triumph from British actor Colin Firth ("Mamma Mia!") in one of the year's best performances that'll likely find him competing for an Oscar alongside Jeff Bridges and George Clooney for Best Actor.
Ford directs an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same name that was one of the first gay-themed novels of its generation. Firth is the central character, a closeted middle-aged college English professor in early 1960's Los Angeles, whose younger long-time companion, Jim (Matthew Goode), tragically dies in a car accident, leaving George alone, depressed and evaluating his own life. His next door neighbor is his old friend, fellow Brit Charley (Julianne Moore), who's newly divorced and struggling with her own life issues. The despondent George seems to know what he wants to do with his life until one of his handsome young students named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) enters his life.
"A Single Man" is a beautiful, sad portrait of a lonely man who's uncertain life may be filled with unexpected outcomes. It's exsuitely filmed, with a lush production that evokes the early, pre-hippie California era. Ford, a creative genius over the years behind the Gucci label, makes an astonishing, auspicious debut as a filmmaker, who skillfully uses colors to his advantage to convey George's feelings. The bright colors used in the flashbacks detail happier times in stark contrast to the washed out gray's, blacks-and-whites of his current mood. The film's upbeat orchestral score also contrasts George's feelings but also conveys an ominous feeling of what's to come.
Even more remarkable is the subtle turns he elicits from his cast, especially Firth in a triumph in a revealing, transparent performance that shows that not only can Firth, normally used in supporting roles and/or stuffy characters in costumed parts, can carry a contemporary film. It also shows that Firth can act using minimal dialogue and facial expressions; his shattered look (and wordless scene) after he learns of his partner's demise is one of the film's highlights.
Julianne Moore is good for a few scenes as his blowsy pal who reminds of Lynn Redgrave or even Elizabeth Taylor, and still manages to pull off a sexy turn in bouffanted hair and long, flowing gown. The handsome Goode is also affecting as George's boyish partner, seen only in flashback, and watch for "Big Love's" Ginnifer Goodwin in a very small role as George's nosy but caring next door neighbor.
All works with near perfection until the film's final act, and where "A Single Man" stumbles a bit when it tries to build upon the relationship between Kenny (Hoult, in a strong, memorable turn) and the lonely George, something that is out of place with the rest of the movie. The film begins and ends essentially the same but it may go down a slightly unexpected turn, leaving the audience to decipher the real outcome of George's life. Which life will he choose? A new hopeful one, or the one with the partner he's always loved?
"A Single Man" may represent a new turn for Ford as well, who's created a beautiful, touching film that should be seen for Firth's excellent performance.