Thursday, 25 February 2010
FILM REVIEW: A SINGLE MAN
Icon Film Distribution
Confession: I had no idea who Tom Ford was before A Single Man. My interest was piqued when the film won Best Actor for its leading man, Colin Firth, at last year's Venice Film Festival. I have since been informed, by friends and acquaintances (some in tones of disgust at my ignorance), that Mr Ford is a fashion and marketing guru best known for turning around the fortunes of fashion house Gucci in the mid '90s. That would explain my ignorance: fashion? Whatever!
But now Tom Ford is a film director and his debut feature, based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood, has been winning acclaim and prizes, mostly for Mr Firth, who is nominated for Best Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards for arguably a career-best performance.
Firth plays George Falconer, a professor at a Los Angeles university who is mourning the recent loss of his gay lover, Jim (Matthew Goode, who appears in flashback). It's 1962 so George's grief is confined to the beautifully designed home he shared with Jim in the suburbs, where his neighbours are domestic clusters of dad, mum and 2.3 kids.
But on the day we are introduced to George he has woken up with a mission, not so much to end his grief but to obliterate it: he plans on committing suicide with a gun. That device is no doubt to lend some dramatic urgency to the film which more or less follows George through the events of his planned final day, events which include a lecture, where he is openly flirted with by a student (Nichols Hoult, best known as the kid from About A Boy), and a drunken dinner party with longtime friend and one time lover, Charlie (Julianne Moore, making the most of her too little screen time).
Given Ford's background, it is no surprise that A Single Man looks good. He relishes in the early '60s setting - where men wear suits and housewives look immaculate - which would not be unfamiliar to fans of television's Mad Men; there is even a sly wink to that show with a voice cameo. That said, the first time director comes close to being all style and no substance. He also appears to have a penchant for eyes, which he focuses on, in close up, throughout.
Keeping the audience focused is Colin Firth's performance. Too long assigned the roles of the cuckold or, understandably, the Mr Darcy type, he's given a chance to embody a character with real emotional complexity. This is made even more impressive by Firth's ability to convey everything the reserved George is feeling with his eyes.
If you'd asked me a year ago to list high profile actors whom I felt would never score an Oscar nomination, Firth would have appeared on that list somewhere (Sandra Bullock too; so much for my psychic abilities). A Single Man sees me stand corrected, and if it weren't for the presence of fellow nominee Jeff Bridges, Firth would most likely have an Oscar to go with his Venice trophy and his recent BAFTA gong. He's the single reason to see A Single Man.