Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Single Man Review

I've decided that I absolutely must review Tom Ford's directorial debut, A Single Man, on my blog. Although it's already been reviewed by nearly every major media outlet (overwhelmingly positive) and by my friend Paul Bellini on his blog, I need to give my two cents worth.

Based on Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel about a day-in-the-life of George, a middle-aged Englishman teaching at a California technical college, Ford's movie is visually sumptuous. George is privately mourning the death of his longtime lover. As played by Colin Firth, George Falconer (Ford decided to give his protagonist a last name where Isherwood's novel does not) is the beating heart of
A Single Man. Firth conveys the character's emotions and turbulent inner life through his eyes alone.

Ford decides to ratchet up the dramatic tension of
A Single Man by departing from the novel in a significant way — at the end of his day George intends to commit suicide. He packs a beautiful pistol (leave it to a fashion designer to make a gun sexy) in his brown leather briefcase as he leaves for work, intending to put the gun to use at day's end.

It's what happens from the moment George leaves his beautifully appointed house (with a wardrobe I would give my right arm to own) to the end of his eventful day that makes
A Single Man truly special. On his last day George decides to savour every moment and interaction. He may be severely depressed with the broken pieces of his heart still falling, but George is still looking for human connection. He is driven by the natural impulse to reach out to other human beings and understand them, while being understood in turn.

Without going into too much plot detail I'll just summarize what I feel are the movie's highlights.

When George talks to people or sees elements of his surroundings that make him feel strong emotions, the film's colour palette changes from browns, greys and blacks to vivid Technicolor. This happens most frequently when George is talking with Kenny, one of his students (played by an incredibly gorgeous Nicholas Hoult) Kenny appears to have taken an interest in George that extends beyond the limiting boundaries of the classroom.

Julianne Moore makes an appearance as George's best friend Charley, a past her prime party girl still attracted to the gay-to-the-bone George. Charley is unwilling to accept that he will never be hers. Moore and Firth share a riveting dinner scene leading up to
A Single Man's climax. Watching these two veteran actors slip into their characters is a treat. It's one of the film's best scenes.

However, the movie is not without its' weak points. The score is sometimes distracting. And at times
A Single Man feels a tad over-directed, with too many closeups of lips and eyes. And Ford's decision to play with the colour intensity by turning characters that were once drab and colourless into explosions of rich Technicolor sometimes feels gimmicky. If Ford had used this effect less it would have been more powerful.

Flaws aside,
A Single Man is a remarkable achievement. Especially since it's Ford's first time in the director's chair. Many of the movie's camera techniques remind me of older French films, especially a scene where Julianne Moore's character applies eyeliner while looking in the mirror. The way Ford films this, focusing on a single eye, is the cinematic equivalent of an exclamation mark. Such an unusual and striking image.

A Single Man is a reminder that we need to savour the moments and individuals that make life worth living. Ford has called Isherwood's novel a spiritual book in media interviews; so it makes sense that Ford has taken this spiritual book and made a movie that's a deserving adaptation of its' source material. It's spiritual not in a God praising sense, but in a sense that it reminds the viewer our lives are unique and have the potential to be filled with beauty and pleasure if we are only aware enough to be conscious of these things and take the time to bring them into our lives.

After all, you only live once. You can find the movie's website here.

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