Five minutes into A Single Man, fashion designer Tom Ford‘s directorial debut, you realize you’re seeing art. At first it seems to be that highly esoteric, stylistic art meant to alienate and rise above the masses. Then the film morphs into art in its purest form. For here is a visionary creating his masterpiece and making it vibrant, raw, utterly captivating. At once, A Single Man is both heartbreaking in its subject matter and uplifting in its beauty, and if it’s not the best film of the year, it’s certainly among the cream of the crop.
Based on Christopher Isherwood‘s 1964 novel of the same name and adapted by Ford, A Single Man chronicles one day in the life of George (Colin Firth), a teacher mourning the loss of his long-time partner Jim (Matthew Goode). As the old adage says, a gun introduced in the first scene must be used by the end of the story, so it’s no surprise to learn that George has decided to kill himself.
In an effort to understand George more fully, A Single Man jumps seamlessly through time: George and Jim share a quiet moment together on the couch; a student attempts to seduce George; George and Jim meet; George encounters a hustler outside a liquor store. Ford ensures that it is always crystal clear what’s taking place and why George and the audience need to experience each particular moment. Some moments are lifted straight from Isherwood’s page with their lyrical nature intact, while others are liberally adapted by Ford, who goes so far as to add new characters and, most daringly, the suicide plot. While Isherwood purists are sure to be up in arms about the changes, Ford’s version is strong.
Firth delivers an Oscar-worthy turn as George; it’s a highly nuanced performance and an utter joy to watch. Everything about Firth’s portrayal of George is highly controlled, which is the perfect description for the character. Even in plotting death, things are planned to the final detail, and Firth imbues George with a cool, calm, collected aura. However, when watching George get blindsided by the news of Jim’s death or wooed by an attractive man, the side of George that still marvels at the wonders of life peeks through. Firth deftly moves between jaded and awed with a dexterity that takes George – and the film – to a whole new level.
To read the rest of Tim’s review, hop on over to Metro Weekly, where his article is currently running.