Review in a Hurry: Fashion icon Tom Ford makes a stunning feature debut with the story of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a teacher who's unable to imagine a future worth living. Thankfully, Julianne Moore's around to drink and smoke, reminding him that living in '60s America is more fun if you act like Don Draper.
The Bigger Picture: At the start of A Single Man Falconer, a 52 year old British college professor living in LA, gets a phone call informing him that Jim, his partner of 16 years (Matthew Goode) has died in a car crash. Racked with grief, George turns inward, obsessing over the love of his life. Their relationship, seen only in flashbacks, shows a couple that wasn't perfect but a pair who at the very least "got" each other. With Jim gone, George decides he doesn't want to go on living. As the morning greets a grumpy George a decision has been made: suicide. Another name for this film could have been A Single Day.
The novel by Christopher Isherwood was able to express George's feelings through inner monologues, but rather than rely too heavily on voiceover to tell us what George is thinking, Ford (who shares screenplay credit with David Scearce) added the element of George's planned suicide as a way of showing instead of just telling. It's a masterstroke that pays off, allowing the audience to become an active participant in the errands accomplished in the span of 24 hours.
The proposed suicide can happen at any minute, since George keeps a pistol in his briefcase. So a casual meeting with a stranger at a liquor store feels urgent: Is this the last time George ever talks to another person?
A Single Man might sound like a real downer at the multiplex, but there's a real sense of energy and fun, too. George in fact, has a student named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) who develops the hots for him. (Really there's no other way to describe it.) And the way the world looks via director Ford, the young man is literally easier on the eyes than most anyone else onscreen.
Visually, the film can look rather muted and soft, a lot like a film from the '60s that you might have seen in high school—like one of those old instructional films about driver safety. But then there are those moments when George looks at Kenny and everything looks brighter, warmer. It's refreshing to see George and Kenny share this kind of affection without feeling like "Oh no, George is gonna get in trouble with the local small-minded neighbors."
There's also Moore who plays Charley, a former lover, and life-long friend. An invitation for dinner at her place is not to be missed! It includes all the era's bells and whistles of drinking, smoking, arguing, more drinking and occasionally, some mod dancing. Moore plays these types of characters to the hilt. Her Charley comes exactly when George and the film needs to let loose.
The entire cast is strong, but Firth is basically the whole show here. He's always been a reliable actor (fans still think his is the only true Mr. Darcy in BBC's version of Pride & Prejudice) but here he brings a wounded quality that is nonetheless fascinating. We've seen him be likeable and awkward before but never so frustrated at his inability to connect with others. With Firth the isolation is intensely relatable.
Tom Ford has made a film that sees true beauty but knows that those things are almost impossible to hold onto.
The 180—a Second Opinion: While it does have Moore's character to liven things up—and it's not as depressing as Precious—A Single Man is very much an independent film. The Blind Side this ain't.
Colin Firth got a Golden Globe nom for this. Check out our gallery of other Notable Nominees.