Tom Ford arrives on the filmmaking scene fully formed, no doubt the product of a man who has been cultivating and manipulating images for nearly two decades as a bigwig fashion designer. His adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel benefits from strong performances, evocative, detail-rich production design and an effectively melancholy mood that only occasionally drifts into slick stylization.
Co-adapted by Ford and David Scearce, A Single Man unfolds over the course of a day in the life of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a British-born, Los Angeles-based English professor who is mourning the loss of his longtime boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode). It’s been eight months since Jim died in a car wreck, and George has decided he no longer wants to live. He’s planned his suicide (which wasn’t a part of the Isherwood’s book) in meticulous detail, going as far as to prepare the clothes he will wear when committing the act.
The dramatic tension of George’s impending demise is interrupted by a variety of figures, most overtly the unexpected presence of an irresistible young student (Nicholas Hoult) who reminds George of his beloved Jim — and whom is going through his own life-altering issues — and George’s best friend and onetime lover Charley (Julianne Moore), a stylish woman who seems to represent the limitations of women past a certain age, the sometimes vacuous nature of cultural sophistication (she wears designer, of-the-moment clothes and listens to Serge Gainsbourg) and the importance of companionship.
Ford uses a variety of cinematic techniques — from lush, color-altered flashbacks and various film speeds to Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi’s mood-setting score — to convey the fleeting memories of a man devastated by the loss of his lover and shunned by a society that isn’t yet ready for him to emerge from the closet.
But Ford’s debut is more than just a technical achievement. Anchored by Firth’s nuanced performance, A Single Man is an eloquent and moving story that feels infected by personal experience. Grade: B-plus
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