Based on a novel of the same name, A Single Man stars Colin Firth as George, a middle-aged homosexual English professor. Set in 1963, the film takes place over the course of one day as George attempts to go about his daily routine while still struggling with the grief of losing his partner Jim (Matthew Goode). He is a solitary, though stylish, figure; hair neatly combed, wearing a brown suit and horn-rimmed glasses he looks like a back-up singer for The Dan Band. George, scorned by his would-be in-laws and living in a society that either doesn’t know, doesn’t care or doesn’t understand the magnitude of his loss, is in a deep state of depression. [morelink]
Tom Ford, a first-time director, is best-known as a fashion designer and it shows. (Which is both a good and bad thing.) Make no mistake, A Single Man is a beautifully shot film; each shot lovingly crafted and perfectly framed in order to heighten its emotional impact. Ironically, that’s the problem. When I say “each shot” I mean quite literally…each…and…every…shot. The film is a monochromatic tone; almost completely devoid of color at times. Ford allows the color to return only when George has moments of reconnection with the world. It’s an interesting and clever visual metaphor but one Ford can’t leave alone; repeatedly revisiting the device throughout the film to the point that it loses any and all subtlety. It’s hard to bemoan a director (especially a newcomer) focusing this much attention on every visual element of a film. But I can’t think of classier way to say this…he art-directs the crap out this thing. When each and every moment is this painstakingly constructed, it gives the film no time to breath. It’s gorgeous but decidedly inorganic; every moment feels staged for maximum impact.
The novel upon which it was based, originally published in 1962, is considered one of the earliest (and possibly best) novel of the gay liberation movement. The book has a stream of consciousness tone and the movie maintains that structure. The film is light on plot in the traditional sense. It’s more of a character study than story. But Firth gives a brilliant performance as a man not permitted to grieve. Men like George weren’t allowed to attack their anguish head-on and neither is Firth as an actor. Yet he manages to convey every ounce of despair in a jaw-droppingly heartbreaking performance. Unfortunately, his work is muted by the over-direction of Ford.