A Single Man
Directorial debuts often amount to a dichotomy, a battle between the cohesive vision of the director and often apparent lacking in the art of subtlety. Few are ever capable of presenting a work both cohesive and uniquely original. But when you’re Tom Ford, nonplussed is evidently not an option.
Set during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, George Falconer (Colin Firth) narrates what he hopes will be his last day. His partner of 16 years Jim (Matthew Goode) was killed during a car accident, leading George to question what it is that keeps him going, other than his work as a professor and friend Charley (Julianne Moore channeling the Redgraves). Adding to his tension, a student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) has been following him and taking a large interest in his personal life.
There is no doubt that this is a well designed piece. Despite supposedly looking awful, Firth is always seen in a perfectly pressed suit, rarely a hair out of place and always in control, yet it is Ford’s ability and readiness to subvert this that is most impressive. The way in which he buttons himself up only heightens the methodical approach George has to his day, even down to a rather comical moment preparing in the bedroom, choreographing how he plans to end his life. Exemplary moments involved him on the toilet, watching through the window as the perfect nuclear family plays with their children before he retreats back into his shell; another, in the bank where he sees the neighbour’s daughter tapping her feet and for a moment, it is not entirely clear whether he is simply imagining it or it is happening in front of him.
This approach can be the piece’s downfall, such as where he remembers sunbathing with Jim on an arid rock, so picturesque and impossible to imply comfort it could be an ad for Ford’s own fall line. Ultimately however, it does little to dampen the overall effect, which despite the pristine environ is one of subtlety and tenderness. It may be stylized and purposive, but it is far from ever being devoid of life. Illustrated in how the the memories he has for Jim are never detached, a marital warmth reminiscent of Heaney’s “The Skunk” embodies all of his memories. Even if the setting may be perfect, the feelings are not always idealized. The extra attention George pays to each aspect of his life, from the secretary to the bank teller, giving that extra compliment and enjoying the moment would regardless lend itself to a potential hyperbole. After all, a man expecting his own death would reasonably see the beauty in the least urbane of moments.
Despite the supporting cast being more than capable of holding their own, each defining their characters and shaping them into something interesting and empathetic, this is truly Firth’s movie. The achy emotional intensity he brings is matched only by his ability to say as much with an expression or look that others could only achieve with a monologue. He is a man living in a house with glass walls, yet always guarded, isolated by his sexuality and those around him having little interest in what he has to say.
A confident and interesting examination on love, hope and despair, this piece will not lead you by the hand but will ultimately reward you for following it to it’s conclusion.