Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good Grief: Colin Firth is Terrific as “A Single Man”

My knowledge of fashion designers is limited to what I was able to glean from the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” I know that Tom Ford is a fashion designer. At least he was now that he’s taken on producing, writing and directing his first feature length film “A Single Man” which is adapted from the novel of the same name. I guess knowing that the film is an art-house flick with lots of symbolism and odd color schemes one can make sense that a man from the fashion world created this film. This is Tom Ford splashed up onscreen. And he fills his screen with beautiful and haunting images. Every person looks like they walked out of a photo spread. Everyone is impeccably dressed and made up. This guy could have invented mise-en-scene. And for all the flashy images being poured out before our eyes, Ford remarkably manages (along with co-screenwriter David Scearce) to never lose sight of the story being told.

“A Single Man” tells the story of a man named George (played here wonderfully by Colin Firth) who is completely grief-stricken. His male lover Jim (played in flashbacks by Matthew Goode) has been killed in a car accident. And since the film takes place in the early 1960s the funeral is for “family only.” In fact a cousin of Jim calls George to tell him what happened more than a day since the accident much against Jim’s family’s wishes. Although at first we don’t know much about George and Jim’s relationship, we learn so much from Firth’s tremendous performance. We literally see George’s heart ripped out of his chest once he realizes his life is practically over. And it is practically, because we see him with a gun and we think that George might be dead by the time the film ends.

The film takes place pretty much during one long day in George’s life. We’re not exactly sure how long it has been since Jim was killed, but we can imagine even if it was a long time ago, it’s something he has not been able to get over. George goes about his day at his job as an English professor where one of his male students flirts with him. This is Kenny (About a Boy’s Nicholas Hoult) and we notice that during one of their early conversations, Kenny’s face literally lights up the screen. You see Ford has insisted his cinematography shoot the film as if it were black and white. Everyone looks pale and colorless. This certainly reflects George’s depressing state. But sometimes a simple conversation with another human being literally brightens up George’s day. It is a startling and effective stylistic choice.

Another person who George has a connection with is his best friend Charley. Charley is played by Julianne Moore who simply shines. She makes the most of her small part and employs a convincing British accent. She’s so extravagant and done up here I’d love to see her as one of Austin Power’s British leading ladies. It seems Charley and George have a past and Charley harbors feelings for George that he just can reciprocate. Their scenes together are magnificent.

“A Single Man” is definitely not a film for everyone. I’m counting on a few Oscar nominations come February, with Colin Firth with his memorable performance certainly a lock for a nomination. Those with art-house sensibilities and an open-mind will find a lot in the film to enjoy. But mostly it is an engaging and beautiful movie about lose and love. GRADE: A-

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