A Single Man
Starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Rated PG.
Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, A Single Man resembles TV’s Mad Men transported to the West Coast, stripped of subplots, and anchored by a central performance that gives unexpected depth to surface-heavy material.
Watch the trailer for A Single Man.
Hitting a career high, Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a buttoned-down Brit teaching literature at a Los Angeles college. After his long-time lover (Matthew Goode, seen in flashbacks) dies in a car crash, George loses whatever feeling he had for his greasy-haired students and straight-arrow Laurel Canyon neighbours, with their Hula Hoops and bomb shelters. He lives, literally, in a glass house, but at least it’s near his oldest pal, played beautifully by Julianne Moore, etching several strong vignettes as a fading London swinger.
Ultimately, the film has an unsure grasp of the period and what it wants to say about those pre-Beatles times. It’s far more striking for its art direction—understandable in the directorial debut of Tom Ford, best known as a savvy clothing designer and Vanity Fair–friendly stylist. He cowrote the terse screenplay with Vancouverite David Scearce, and they added a crucial element to Christopher Isherwood’s novel, which focused on a single day in Falconer’s life: here, the 52-year-old professor is determined to kill himself by sundown, giving everything else an extra urgency.
Urgency is not Ford’s strongest suit, however. Languor is his principal mode of expression, as seen in frequent nods to the swoony, operatic style of Wong Kar-Wai. Too bad the authority of Ford’s story, and his eye, is undermined by gimmicks like draining and resaturating the colour palette according to George’s emotional engagement. Did Ford want to make a movie or an art-house mood ring?