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.

6 Responses to “A SINGLE MAN **”

  1. Well you’ve just been a busy moviegoer the last few weeks. Me? I’ve been taking it easy.

    We’re not too far apart on A Single Man…at least how I felt when I first saw it, but I’ve warmed up to it some.

    I absolutely agree the cold tone and emotional remove makes it a hard film to embrace, but I kind of realized after that it totally fits with George’s reserved English character. The fact he has all these feelings but isn’t able to quite express them while sort of quietly wasting away doesn’t make great immediate drama, but it lingers and haunts.

    We agree though that Julianne and Colin were fantastic. They played off each other nicely. Moore added a dash of the overt drama that Firth held back. It was a nice mix.

  2. My darling Craig…

    I believe I mentioned this over at LiC. But you’re so busy over there that you may easily have forgotten.

    During the holiday season of 2008, nearly all the big releases opened in early/mid December. The remainder debuted some time in January.

    So I saw THE GODFATHER at our film festival theatre on my birthday. There wasn’t anything else on that was remotely interesting. Glad it worked out that way.

    It was a fantastic experience.

    I had viewed TG once before at that sixplex hellhole on Granville Street for its 25th anniversary in 1997. But it was the tiny little auditorium on the top floor. In 2008, it was a much more lavish presentation.

    That film fest cinema may not look like much from outside. But inside it’s a palace. It’s as lovely as any theatre I’ve ever seen anything in.

    But for Christmas 2009…

    A ton of films opened on the exact same day. If I’m going to have my own site and do film reviews, that’s bloody annoying. Am I grateful that I can see these motion pictures at all?

    Of course.

    But I wish they would be a little more spread out in terms of release dates.

    ASM, IT’S COMPLICATED and NINE all opened on the 25th. So if I wanted to keep the momentum going, I had to get out there.

    Still haven’t seen AVATAR. But I will this week. We don’t get CRAZY HEART until mid January. I know you’ve all ready seen those two.

    We’re getting THE LAST STATION at the begining of February.

    That will probably be it. Depending upon how the OSCAR ball drops (or not), I may also see THE LOVELY BONES and THE MESSENGER. I think that will finally put the cherry on top for this year.

    Ha ha. Hey, I would be taking it easy if I lived in LA too. As far as filmgoing is concerned, that is. But living up here you have to jump when the opportunities present themselves.

    No matter. I’ll be down there eventually.

    As for ASM…

    That is a really brilliant observation from you. I was actually contemplating a similar response as I was writing the review. I was thinking that maybe the tone was an intentional thing on TOM FORD’S part in keeping with George’s personality and character. But then I dismissed that and got on something else.

    But that genuinely is an astute observation, Craig.

    In many ways, this is an extremely impressive directorial debut. I think TOM FORD has the potential to be a brilliant legendary director.

    But there were a number of things that got to me in a negative way and then I couldn’t realistically think of giving the film three stars.

    That ending really bothered me. I didn’t expect it and it obviously changed the meaning of the film greatly. Took it in a completely different direction.

    People that I’ve talked to since have told me that they thought it was preposterous. But none of them have seen it yet. My dad laughed like hell and said, “Now that was f’ing stupid.”

    But you know what he’s like. Very similar to his little girl.

    Yeah, COLIN and JULIANNE completely knocked me out. It was acting of the very finest calibre. They seemed exactly like two old friends that had known each other for years – the ease and the honesty. No artifice. They could just be with each other.

    I doubt that I’ll see it again. But you never know.

    But I am looking forward (greatly) to hearing both of their names called out on OSCAR nomination morning.

    Thanks for being here, honey. You know that I’m just ecstatic when you come visit me.

  3. The ending troubled me too and it’s probably the one thing that will ever keep it from being great no matter if I see it again.

    Still, I think you’re right that Ford has a career in front of him if he chooses it. I’ve watched/listened to several interviews with the guy in the last few weeks and he’s very thoughtful and sharp. He acknowledges that he’s new to this, but everything he did had a reason behind it.

    Very impressive guy.

    I remember you telling us about Godfather and I believe I commented at the time how terrific that was.

    When I FIRST moved to LA, they had a re release of the Godfather films. They’d been restored sort of, but not to the extent they were later…anyway, I was watching Godfather I at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and I had a little thrill when Tom came to Los Angeles to scare the movie mogul and the establishing shot was an aerial of the Chinese!

    I know it’s supremely corny of me, but I thought to myself “Hell yeah. I’m in LA!”

  4. Hmmm…

    You know (as you so wisely observed) I’ve seen a whole wack of movies fairly recently in a rather short space of time.

    NINE wasn’t exactly godawful. I’ve seen worse, I guess. But it was so far removed from what I was expecting that I haven’t even bothered to think about it.

    AT ALL.

    I have contemplated IT’S COMPLICATED (try saying that a few times fast) on occasion. I’m not going to upgrade its rating. I probably won’t squeeze in a second viewing.

    You never know, though.

    But for whatever reason I can’t get A SINGLE MAN out of my mind. It absolutely haunts me.

    Now I could change that rating to three stars. I was actually right on the verge…and then that ending hit.

    **********SPOILERS****************

    It’s dfficult to take anything that you hear seriously on the net. Far too much misinformation. Too many wack jobs.

    But some anonymous commenter at a forum said that they saw ASM at the Toronto film fest and that the ending was different at that time. Apparently George lived.

    I have no confirmation. So I don’t know if that’s true.

    It kind of bugged me the way that it kept swinging around. You become aware (almost from the beginning) that George is so sad and morbidly grief stricken that he resolves not to go on.

    You know that he wants to kill himself. He’s a nice man. That’s what so heartbreaking. George is a wonderful guy. You spend a good portion of the picture hoping that he won’t carry out his plan.

    Then he talks to Kenny for the first time outside of class. He is determined to keep him at arm’s length. What would be the point of having an extended discussion and getting to know this lovely young man better when he’s all ready decided that this will be the very last day of his life?

    But Kenny senses that something is wrong with George. He’s worried about him. He pursues him. Won’t let him off the hook.

    So then you think: Ah, this is the point of the story. He finally clears the air with Charley. He finds someone else that he can have a meaningful relationship with that will effectively replace Jim – a gorgeous guy who is sincere.

    Just as you’re beginning to relax and realize that everything is about to work out for George (and the danger is past) in the last five minutes of the film he dies of a heart attack.

    Poor Kenny. Just think how he’ll feel when he wakes up. I think Charley will never be able to get over it. That’s just too tragic – especially when they finally got everything out and on the table.

    I dunno. I wasn’t going to see it again. But maybe I’ll go after the nominations come out. I’ll have to see how long it sticks around here.

    I really wish George had lived. But perhaps that was the point. He and Charley had that big talk. He realized that there were people that cared about him.

    Maybe he had learned all the lessons that he needed to. Just seemed like such a waste.

    Reminds me a bit of AMERICAN BEAUTY. KEVIN SPACEY’S character feels like he’s dead. He has nothing to live for. He feels empty, isiolated, alone.

    Then his existence changes radically and he has a whole new perspective. So he thinks he’s found his own path again and everything is going to be fine. He sits there holding that picture of his family and talking about how grateful he is – and then right out of the blue…BOOM.

    So he didn’t get to go on living with the knowledge and enlightenment that he had newly experienced. It was time for him to go. He had all ready learned everything he needed to know.

    **************END SPOILERS*******

    I am not really surprised that TOM FORD has such potential as a filmmaker. He came from fashion and genuinely revolutionized and updated GUCCI. Made it a prestige brand to watch all over again.

    He has a great eye, fabulous aesthetic underpinnings and a wonderful awestruck sense of beauty. Those are all valuable qualities for a director to have.

    As long as he wants a film career, I think he can basically write his own ticket. He’s a thoroughly amazing talent. TOM FORD is going to make some genius movies. Guaranteed.

    Yeah, not being an American citizen is a very big disadvantage. Living 40 miles from the border (even in a city with incomparable beauty like this one) just blows. You’re literally a stone’s throw away. But all the harsh rules still apply.

    Anyone in any corner of America can dump all their belongings in their cars, move to LA and try to get a foothold. Seems so unfair. But that is the reality.

    Not to worry. I will be down there eventually. Count on it. Maybe even sooner than you and I would automatically assume. We’ll just see how it goes.

    That sounds like the most gorgeous expressive fever dream: seeing TG in LA. No, I don’t think it’s cheesy. I think it’s extravagantly awesome.

    TG is a Hollywood classic. So there is no better place to view it.

    Thanks for being here, Craig. So cool for you to drop by.

    Just wait till I hit the streets of the Golden City. Ha ha. That town will never be the same.

  5. I wonder how the book ended. I heard Ford talking about it and the inference that I got was that the suicide angle was not in the book at all.

    It leaves me wondering what happened to George in the book.

  6. Craig…

    I haven’t looked at the novel myself. So I’ve just been whipping around the net (Googling various types of fascinating tidbits etc.) in response to your query.

    Seeing as I don’t actually have a copy of ASM in front of me, we’re just going to have to wing it and hope for the best.

    It would appear that the suicide angle was TOM FORD’S idea.

    (Come to think of it, I did read an interview with Mr. Ford about a month ago where he talked about a family member who had committed suicide when he was a young boy. He gave only the briefest of details about it. The person was definitely male.

    I got the impression that it wasn’t immediate family – not his father or a brother. I could be wrong, though.

    But he did say in the interview that he took some of the details and circumstances that were particular to that tragedy and incorporated them into the film. This artistic undertaking was obviously a highly personal, meaningful thing to him.

    That must have been a rather traumatic, heartbreaking thing for a small boy to go through. Perhaps he felt that he had to make this film – and construct it in that particular way – to help him heal?

    I’m certainly all for that – if that is indeed the case.)

    Apparently George is sad and grief stricken in the book. (As anyone naturally would be.) But he is slowly getting stronger emotionally and more optimistic. The suicide thing doesn’t enter into the narrative at all from what I can ascertain.

    And George definitely does not die at the end.

    That’s all I got this go round, Monsieur Crabcake.

    Thanks for jumping the fence….

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