A SINGLE MAN **
If TOM FORD continues his new found career as a film director, it’s an absolute certainty that he will make at least one masterpiece before he’s through.
He is definitely moving in the right direction. But for all of its grand potential, A SINGLE MAN misses the mark.
It is Los Angeles in 1962 and we are enveloped in its shimmering golden panorama.
GEORGE FALCONER (COLIN FIRTH) is an elegantly refined – but rather glamorous – Brit in his early fifties. He is in excellent shape and looks much younger. George is an English professor at the college level.
For eight long months he has been immersed in horrific grief. His romantic partner – an architect named JIM (MATTHEW GOODE) – was killed in a car accident. They lived in a fabulous house and were together for 16 years.
It was exactly like any other conventional marriage or love affair. They spent weekend afternoons sprawled on their couch reading with their two fox terriers on the floor.
But this is the early 60s – before the sexual revolution, before the Stonewall riots, before anything that could even approach compassion or equality.
The closet looms large. Half a century ago, almost no one was openly gay or bisexual. There was too much risk involved…in every way imaginable.
Jim’s cousin calls George in secret to inform him of his lover’s death. He makes it clear that Jim’s parents were uncomfortable and unaccepting concerning his personal life. The funeral is for family. George is not invited.
On top of all this unending sadness, George is ripped apart by the loss of his dogs. Jim took them with him for a trip back home. That’s where the accident occurred.
The male dog died with his master. No one knows what happened to the female.
(There is a scene much later in the film that is devastating in its sensitive portrayal of shattering loneliness. George sees a fox terrier in an unoccupied car and talks to the dog through the window.
The owner returns. She senses that George is a gentle person who is not a threat. She rolls her window down and lets him have contact with her pet.
This exchange allows George to recall how much attention and care he lavished on his beloved animals. The look on the young woman’s face says it all. She can tell George has been through some kind of trauma.
She doesn’t know exactly what happened. But she gives him sufficient room to get to the point that he needs to be.)
The story takes place during a 24 hour period. In the course of this tragically significant day, George makes some serious decisions which can not be easily undone. He also learns much more about life than he ever thought possible.
One of his male students thinks that he has a lot in common with George. KENNY (NICHOLAS HOULT) has been drifting in a semi romantic thing with a spectacular girl who resembles Brigitte Bardot. But he is clearly attracted to and intrigued by George.
There is also CHARLOTTE (JULIANNE MOORE) to contend with.
Known as CHARLEY to her friends, she is a startlingly gorgeous Englishwoman and George’s closest companion. Aside from Jim, no one has ever meant as much to him.
But it’s problematic.
Like many men struggling to come to terms with their true feelings, George had sexual liaisons with women first. When he finally embraced being gay, he left that all behind.
When they were very young, he and Charley were together. Even though George moved on to men, the bond was never actually broken. Charley got on with her life as well. She had other boyfriends and was married for nine years before her husband walked out.
But she never really got over George. George loves Charley. But Charley is still in love with George.
She always will be. Forever.
A SINGLE MAN is based on the novel by CHRISTOPHER ISHERWOOD, whose stories were the basis for the legendary play CABARET. TOM FORD and DAVID SCEARCE did the adaptation.
Mr. Ford climbed a rather large hurdle when he decided to leave the fashion world and attempt to make films.
Though A SINGLE MAN is a rather mixed bag, there is much to admire about it.
TOM FORD is all ready an incredible actors’ director. Eliciting superlative work from your cast is something that many filmmakers never learn to do successfully.
Mr. Ford has an astonishing visual sense and a great eye for beauty – whether it’s people, a setting or inanimate objects.
He evocatively and perfectly encapsulates the look and texture of that period in sun drenched southern California. Charley entertains George in a breathtaking black and white dress. (It’s paired with some jaw dropping gold jewelry.) Then there’s the entire sequence that is a very effective homage to Pedro Almodovar.
The cinematography is a great draw. It’s almost experimental in its extremes. Some scenes are made up entirely of neutrals: stark whites, burnished russets, deep steely grays. Other sequences are filled with rapturous colour and are bursting with light.
The score is lush and haunting.
But all of that can not make up for a cold detached tone which keeps you at a distance for much of the film’s duration. Not to mention that ridiculous ending that almost ruins everything that took place previously.
It comes completely out of left field. It was a real waste to end it on that note.
But the acting is truly amazing.
NICHOLAS HOULT (all grown up and very handsome) is wonderful. MATTHEW GOODE is fantastic as well.
Blink and you’ll miss LEE PACE. He’s also very good.
But Julianne Moore is a revelation.
There is no doubt that Ms. Moore is a talented and extremely attractive woman. But if the Academy wants to reward her at this juncture, they should take a look at her in this film.
It’s basically only one big scene. But it’s a particularly glorious one. CHARLEY gets to express every large unspoken emotion in the book. Though she and GEORGE have intimate knowledge of each other, she has never drastically let her hair down in that manner.
She tells him how she really feels about him and the relationship that they’ve shared. All of her frustration, tenderness, sarcasm, sweetness, melancholy and rage are laid out in an extraordinarily expressive fashion. She hits every note lyrically.
In her entire career, JULIANNE has never looked as arrestingly beautiful as she does here.
To see her do the twist to BOOKER T & THE MGS’ GREEN ONIONS was something else.
She was absolutely sublime.
COLIN FIRTH just takes the ball and runs with it. GEORGE has a stalwart gentlemanly grace about him. COLIN’S portrayal is heartfelt without being maudlin. It’s cool and insular without being stuffy.
But you can easily feel the weight of this lovely man’s despair. It’s one of the best performances of the year.
COLIN FIRTH is truly magnificent and completely worthy of adoration.
It’s a great joy to see him ascend to this level on the eve of what is sure to be his first long awaited Oscar nomination.
Well done, Mr. Firth. Well done indeed.