A SINGLE MAN – Film Review by Sara S.
What would you do if you lost the person you loved most? After losing his lover of 16 years, George Falconer has decided that November 30, 1962 will be the day he kills himself. “A Single Man” is fashion designer, Tom Ford’s debut film. The film stars the impeccable Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. “A Single Man” was based on the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name. “A Single Man” has risen to critical acclaim and earned some well-deserved Oscar Buzz. Nathan Rabin of the A.V. Club said, “A Single Man is a film of tremendous style wedded to real substance, and rooted in Firth’s affecting lead performance as a man trying to keep it together for one last day after his world has fallen apart.”
Even though “A Single Man” has a well-rounded cast of supporting characters, Colin Firth carries the weight of the entire film. A film with such somber themes of loss and death could easily fall into a vicious cycle of self-pity, but Firth rises to the challenge and gives a performance of heartbreaking honesty. Firth gives one of the few performances when, looking at the screen, you see the character, not the actor playing him. In “A Single Man”, it’s almost as if Firth has embodied George and is simply existing, not acting.
While many actors would see this as a golden opportunity for Oscar status, Firth saw it as a chance to become and understand the character he was playing, and all the complexities that come with him. In a recent interview Firth stated, “What’s strange, to me, is that George has haunted me since I stopped doing the film. I feel he’s around somewhere…I want to check in on him, wherever he is, and make sure he’s okay.” Firth is notably excellent in a scene early on in the film where he gets a phone call from Jim’s (his long-time partner) cousin. He has called to inform George that on his way to see his mother, Jim was in a fatal car accident and died. To make matters worse, he uncomfortably tells George that he cannot come to the funeral. As George rushes off the phone, it seems as though he’s been hit by a ton of bricks. Firth’s reaction helps you understand the enormity of the situation and what a tragedy it is.
“A Single Man” probably has a cast of about five to six people. While the film’s success is dependent on Firth’s performance, the supporting cast helps form a strong mold of what George’s relationships and life is like after the accident. Julianne Moore plays Charley, an old lover of George’s back when they were young. Charley’s expectations of George are the textbook example of a relationship that isn’t meant to be successful by any means. Moore and Firth have excellent chemistry despite their limited screen time together.
In the one scene they share together, George bursts into a fit of rage after Charley suggests Jim was just a substitution of his real love for her. Charley is a frail, damaged woman and Moore injects her with a sense of vulnerability that is hard not to sympathize with. That being said, I definitely had my issues with her performance. While Moore is successful at playing vulnerable, she gets a little too over the top when she has to be dramatic. Her accent was also a little questionable. I’m sure it’d be a perfectly fine British accent if it didn’t have such a congested, forced tone.
Possibly the most important performance in the film was that of Matthew Goode as Jim. With Jim and George, we had to honestly see their connection and love for one another. In the short flashbacks placed throughout the film, Goode had to claim his place in the movie. Goode ends up playing Jim as a playful partner that the audience can’t help but fall in love with and as the film progresses, our hearts break more and more for George. In one scene, George and Jim are reading on the couch arguing about who should change the record. Their seemingly frivolous exchange is a perfect window of the void that is currently dominating George’s life. As Jim says, “Honestly, what could be better than being tucked up on this couch with you?” we can’t help but agree; even if we are merely onlookers.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about “A Single Man” is that Tom Ford has never made a film before. In order to get “A Single Man” made, Ford financed it himself. The amount of passion Ford pours into this film is evident in the heart breaking beauty of every shot. Ford uses color saturation, framing, and stylish costuming and designing to tell his story. While some people may not agree that what he does with “A Single Man” is successful, you can’t help but be amazed at the simple fact that he was daring enough to try half of the things he did.
The one thing that Ford does that sets the film apart from any other 60’s film is his use of color. The film is entirely de-saturated and grim – reflecting George’s inner turmoil. Then, when one semblance of familiarity or connection appears, color returns to the frame. Sometimes it is quite gradual, like in one scene where George is talking to Kenny, an idealistic college student. As the two talk and share their ideas, Kenny’s complexion slowly brightens and his blue eyes light up the screen. However, other times the color change is instantaneous. For instance, in one scene where George tells a woman she has a pretty smile, her lips turn bright red as her smile widens. Or when George bends down to smell a rose at Charley’s house, it turns pink. These changes in color allow us to connect to George even though he is unable to express himself.
Another unique technique used throughout the film is flashbacks. Since Jim is dead from minute one, the audience needs some way of showing the audience George and Jim’s relationship. Yet what makes them so unique is that they are seen entirely through the eyes of George. The flashbacks vary from being a trigger to his mind simply wandering. For example, when George is teaching his English class his mind wanders to Jim and him swimming. Or when he thinks of going to the bar, his mind flashes back to when he met Jim.
One particularly memorable flashback is when George finds a black and white photo of Jim. We are instantly transferred to the past, but this time there is something different. The flashback is in black and white, just like George remembers it. Not only are the flashbacks stylish, they are seamless transitions into a life that was once happier and carefree. A time when our protagonist was with someone he loved; or, when George had someone to love him.
Some of the other excellent contributions to this film are the score and screenplay. Tom Ford crafted the screenplay with David Scearce. The screenplay is intellectual, but never compromises the characters to get the message across. The script uses foreshadowing, connections between characters and a slow build up to a devastating finale. The score was a character of its own. A mix between opera and classical, Abel Korzeniowski made a score that climaxes right when the movie does and seems to have a running commentary throughout the film.
Honestly, I could go on about how much I love this film until my mouth was sore and my head hurt. With its impeccable cinematography, acting, writing, score, and directing it’s hard not to love “A Single Man.” I would recommend this film to everyone who has ever seen a film. This is a perfect example of how you can make a masterpiece with one vision and a lot of passion. Without a doubt: “A Single Man” is my favorite film of 2009.