Review: A Single Man
Directed by first time director Tom Ford who is best known as a fashion designer and photographer, it would be easy and some would say cheep to accuse A Single Man of being a triumph of style over substance or being a film that looks better than it actually is. Unfortunately all the potential clichés are probably true, the film looks amazing with beautiful photography and amazing attention to detail but, it exists in an almost dreamlike state similar to The Virgin Suicides (1999) but ultimately it all feels a little hollow and pointless. As a viewer I didn’t feel that I had learnt or experienced anything new or that it had changed my perception of anything by seeing the movie. Therefore the movie becomes little more than entertainment, and as beautifully shot and sublimely acted the movie it is, it is just too dour to be truly entertaining.
Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name from1964 the movie is set in 1962 around the same time as The Cuban Missile Crisis that is referred to in the movie. The main character George Falconer (Colin Firth) is a collage professor who is struggling to get over the loss of partner Jim (Matthew Goode) who died in a car accident six months earlier. The film is shot in such a way to imply that George sees the same flashbacks that we see of Jim and in the same way we do (to the extent a black and white photograph triggers a black and white flashback), he is literally haunted by his dead lover. George decides that it will be his last day as he plans to kill himself, he spends the day partly going through the motions of an ordinary day and partly making preparation for his suicide, all the time haunted by his flashbacks. The portrayal of George’s sexuality is interesting, for a film set in the 60’s with flashbacks to the 50’s it is very easily accepted and made to appear very normal, this makes the film seem much more modern than its setting. Interestingly though one of the most successful and compelling scenes is when George is talking about fear and the perception of fear but holds back on his ultimate meaning.
Firstly the film is an absolute triumph from a performance point of view, the ever reliable firth gives the performance of his career and of the movies I have seen so far believe he deserves the best actor Oscar and BAFTA. Julianne Moore makes a brief but memorable appearance as Charley, George’s oldest friend. The scenes they share together are magical and poignant and ultimately heartbreaking; as a viewer I realised just how alone George was at the moment when I questioned how little Charley understands him. Nicholas Hoult is also impressive as one of Georges students. His character is integral to the story but is never fully explained, the role could easily have been written as a figment of George’s imagination rather than the real character we see in the film.
The film also looks amazing, the costumes and locations all look amazing, again I know it’s a cliché but really look like they have come directly out of a fashion shoot. The photography and lighting is also brilliant helping to create the mood of the film. George’s house is stunning, it looks ultra modern but still has the warmth you associate with a more traditional property. It is easy to imagine George as growing up in London, probably in a Victorian property then moving to the New World where he balances the modern and traditional. This similar to the way he divides his personal and professional lives, letting the two overlap a certain amount but holding back a little all the time. There are a couple of scenes where George is seeing laying out cloths, this is reminiscent of Richard Gere in American Gigolo, his impeccably tailored suit is a mask or costume, as he dresses he is getting into character, the voiceover explains just how aware George is of this.
From a style point of view, there is one really conspicuous and annoying thing, the movie is filled with close-ups of people’s faces, the camera lingers on them just a moment too long and the colours become a little more vivid. It serves no purpose for the good of the film but is hugely distracting. Ultimately the film fails to live up to its potential, it has so much more to offer than it actually achieves leaving me feeling a little empty. To use an analogy it is like going to see a new band; they look the part, there are great musicians but the songs they sing just aren’t very good.
Three Stars out of Five