Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: A Single Man

A Single Man

My God. What a pretty, pretty movie. If nothing else, see this film for its style. Debut director Tom Ford comes to the world of film as a fashion designer, and it shows. This film is a gorgeous little wind-up toy of a film, whose striking images are made all the more resonant for its emotional depth and complexity. A Single Man is a scalpel: it cuts close and hard.
George Falconer (Colin Firth) is disintegrating. A closeted gay man in repressive 1962 L.A., his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) has died in a car-crash, but he must continue to live as per normal. Each morning, he wakes up and takes time to "become George," aka don the appearance of the kind of man that should be a professor in the early 60s. The film takes place over the course of one day, and this day, he adds one extra step to his routine: he puts a gun in his briefcase. Whether he intends to kill himself or someone else is not immediately evident. What is evident, however, is that George is drowning, no one can see it, and he is unable to draw any attention to himself to get help.
One cannot talk about this film without giving proper credit to the lead performance by Colin Firth. Firth's character is a fascinating study in facades of perfection to cover up inner turmoil. Firth's George Falconer is always immaculate, well-spoken, and bland: exactly what he needs to be to blend in. When we see him alone, however, we see him begin to disintegrate. Even with others, cracks begin to show: my personal favorite is the speech he gives to his class. He teaches Aldous Huxley, and one of his students asks if the author is an Anti-Semite. Firth's character goes on a tangent about fearing minorities, and how the scariest minorities are the ones who can pretend to be like everyone else. It's a great piece of acting and writing, (most notably the end, where Falconer lists a few of the real fears in the world), but also a great director's showpiece and a great scene in general. Notice how the camera picks out two students in the class. Watch how uncomfortable they become when their professor starts talking about hiding in plain sight.
I can't believe this is director Tom Ford's first film. A Single Man shows a remarkable mastery of the craft, demonstrating all the subtleties and nuances that are an enigma to lesser directors. First and foremost, A Single Man is a style piece. The film constantly experiments with different levels of color saturation, editing techniques, sound, and compositions. Yet, miraculously, it isn't to the detriment of the film. Somehow, the style serves to deepen the emotions portrayed onscreen. Notice how the color changes when something beautiful or honest enters George's life, and notice how the film finds evocations of his dead lover in everything around him (my favorite has to be how everyone's eyes change colors to match the color of his lover's).
I have yet to mention the production design, which is impeccably gorgeous, or the music, which is heart-breaking in its quiet longing and intensity. All this would be for naught, however, without the solid emotional anchor of Colin Firth. His performance, in conjunction with the stylistic musings of Tom Ford, allow this film to achieve greatness.

(I have to link to the trailer, just to give you some idea of the kind of film this is:
I also highly recommend previewing the soundtrack on iTunes, which is just one of the best soundtracks you'll hear all year. My favorites: George's Waltz, Swimming, Snow, Stillness of the Mind, and Going Somewhere, though you really can't go wrong here.)

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