A SINGLE MAN
George (Colin Firth), an English professor in 1960s California, attempts to settle his various affairs prior to killing himself - his suicidal intentions set into motion by the tragic death of his longtime younger lover, Jim (Matthew Goode). His one-time lover and now close friend Charley (Julianne Moore) knows nothing of his plans and tries to rekindle the flame. But it's one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) who takes a step towards George's broken heart.
Review by Louise Keller:
Life, death and living in the moment are the themes of Tom Ford's sublimely thought provoking film about a man who decides today will be different. Based on Christopher Isherwood's novel, it's an impressive debut for fashion designer Ford who wrote, produced and directed the film. But even more impressive is Colin Firth's wonderfully nuanced performance as the serious, hung-up and grief-stricken George who doesn't want to live in a world in which there is no time for sentiment. While its themes may be serious, our journey is coloured by the light and shade of the little things, which pieced together form a compelling whole.
Aldous Huxley's After Many A Summer is the book that Firth's Professor George is studying with his university students. Death and the contemplation of life is all George can think about since the accident in which Jim (Matthew Goode, excellent), his lover of 16 years, died. We flit to different time frames and to idyllic days when he and Jim met at the local pub, sensual days at the beach; evenings relaxing with books and music, as we get a glimpse of their bond and life together. But the day is full of surprises. There's gin, pink Sobranie cigarettes and dancing the twist with his drama-queen neighbour Charley (Julianne Moore, memorable), for whom living in the past is the future; and there's a spark of a moment with Carlos (Jon Kortajarena) - a Spanish James Dean look-alike, over broken glass and cigarettes ('Love is like a bus: wait a while and another one comes along'). There's also the impressive Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) as Kenny, the empathetic student who always seems to be in the right place at the wrong time.
The film's pleasures are discovering and savouring (with George) all the little things that life dishes up: his gem of a housekeeper, the brattish kids next door, a trip to the bank, the young men with sexy bodies on the tennis court. Ford effectively uses colour (or the lack of it) in telling his tale and Abel Korzeniowski's beautiful score is as grand as its scale. The 60s are brought to life with great production design, hair and costumes. Just like real life, we are never sure what is around the corner, but the journey is filled with surprises and we are glad to have been invited to tag along.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Christopher Isherwood's deeply romantic novel about an older man (given a coat of respectability by being a professor of English) after the tragic loss of his younger lover, makes excellent material for the screen. Set just before the social and sexual revolution of the 60s, the story is one of loss, grief and the loss of meaning for a man whose whole world is bound to his lover.
This is fashion designer Tom Ford's directing debut and the film looks great; Dan Bishop's design is subtle but evocative. Abel Korzeniowski's music is a little too flowery, a little too insistently '40s movie', a little too camp, but mostly it still works.
Ford tackles the subject matter with great sensitivity but he almost spoils it all as he fusses with the new toy in his control, experimenting with the possibilities of cinema. Luckily, these intrusive, design-driven joyrides are abandoned as the film progresses and the focus is back on the story and the characters.
Colin Firth, who was voted Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival (2009) for this performance, delivers a remarkably nuanced and balanced characterisation of George, drawing us in to his sorrow and helplessness, his confusion and his intended suicide. But there is no self pity and no ersatz sentimentality. The scene where he readies to shoot himself borders on farce, and while we can see what Ford is trying to do (but I won't reveal here) it doesn't really work. That it can be overlooked is thanks entirely to Firth.
In the flashbacks, Matthew Goode makes a strong impression as Jim, George's lover and Julianne Moore is exquisite as Charley, her English accent impeccable, her character credible, her aching loneliness palpable. Jon Kortajarena has a brilliant cameo as Carlos, a tall, dark and handsome passing encounter - a scene that pays off later. Nicholas Hoult is mesmerising as Kenny, the student who insinuates himself into George's life with genuine affection tinged with restraint - the kind of restraints that fuels the emotional fire of the story and which is rarely portrayed in contempo cinema - probably because it's no longer a necessary form of protective behaviour for gays. Speaking of which, one of several outstanding scenes has George and Charley sharing a dinner and a few drinks, during which Charley suggests that George's relationship with Jim was perhaps a substitute for the real thing. Well, that gets George going and he lambasts her; George's spirited response will no doubt elicit cheers and applause from the gay community.
But you don't have to be gay to appreciate George's emotional journey nor the unexpectedly ironic ending.
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COLIN FIRTH FEATURE
A SINGLE MAN (M)
CAST: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Kortajarena, Ryan Simpkins, Paulette Lamori
PRODUCER: Tom Ford, Andrew Miano, Robert Salerno, Chris Weitz
DIRECTOR: Tom Ford
SCRIPT: Tom Ford, David Scearce (novel by Christopher Isherwood)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduard Grau
EDITOR: Joan Sobel
MUSIC: Abel Korzeniowski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Bishop
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 25, 2010