Director: Tom Ford
Cast: Colin Firth, Nicholas Hoult, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode
Watch A Single Man online in the UK: MUBI UK / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
It’s hard not be completely enraptured by some films. Detailing a single day in the single life of Professor George Falconer (Firth), A Single Man sees the Brit dealing with the loss of long-term partner Jim (Goode) in a car accident. Standing in class, staring at nothing, George is lonely, sad, and incredibly handsome. It’s hard not to notice that last one.
Kenny (Hoult), one of his students, has obviously clocked it. Emboldened by a lecture on conformity, fear and social minorities, he approaches George several times during the day, offering drink, conversation and a yellow pencil sharpener (not a euphemism). It’s the little details that make it all so beautiful – the shining plastic of the stationery beaming out of the screen in an otherwise staid frame.
But that’s the sheer verve that Tom Ford’s film is drenched in; a fashion legend turning his hand to Christopher Isherwood’s novel, A Single Man is simple, stoic and, above all, stylish. Updating the story to the 60s, the production design throughout is flawless, from the costumes to the neatly realised period locations. There’s no sign that this is the work of a debut director. Far from it – it seems more mature than that. It certainly looks it.
You can see it in Colin Firth’s reserved outfit – a plain brown suit and neatly pressed shirt – which matches his quiet demeanour, while inwardly he’s screaming in agony. It’s been eight months since Jim died and we meet his chirpy, charismatic lover through several flashbacks, one in sumptuous black and white – a bold move that matches the movie’s confident palette.
In the present day, George stumbles through, gun in his dresser drawer, cigarette in hand. He’s surviving life on his own with no real relationships, save for former lover Charley (Moore), a woman who spends her time drinking gin and offering false sympathy. “We could still make a go of it,” she purrs, lying on the floor. No one for a minute believes her. It’s a scene of facade and empty sadness.
Shot through with isolation and tension, Firth’s turn is so good that you can’t look away. Tom Ford knows it, his camera sticking close to Firth’s face so we can see every hue in his half-dead eyes (hidden yet magnified behind those thick glasses). He’s positively radioactive, at times. A closet homosexual during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his day is drained of colour; only when George feels a genuine connection does the screen flare up into bright, posterised life, all blue contact lenses and orange skin. It’s a masterful touch, lurching between the chill of loneliness and the nuclear intensity of a moment of connection. At one point, he smokes with a rugged Spanish man at a gas station, bathed in the red glow of an L.A sunset. A Single Man looks like an advert, but that transient gloss lingers for 100 minutes. And you feel every glorious, aching second.
A Single Man is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription, until 8th July 2019.
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