An abrupt, out-of-left field, unnecessary bummer of an ending keeps me from giving the otherwise terrific “A Single Man” a total rave.
An abrupt, out-of-left field, unnecessary bummer of an ending keeps me from giving the otherwise terrific “A Single Man” a total rave. Maybe it’s the same ending from the Christopher Isherwood novel (I don’t know; I haven’t read it), but it simply doesn’t work on screen.
That said, the 90 minutes that precede it show why bookmakers will be giving odds to Colin Firth grabbing an Oscar nomination for best actor, and maybe even to first-time director Tom Ford for leaving the fashion business behind to go after a movie career.
Set in the staid early-1960s, this is literally a day-in-the-life of George (Firth) a well-to-do, prim and proper middle-aged Brit who’s settled in for a teaching position in California. But it’s a very special day, taking place eight months after the accidental death of his younger American lover Tom (Matthew Goode).
George has basically kept on keeping on, driving his expensive car, living in his gorgeous house, trying to get through to his lackadaisical students, continuing the longtime and close (and complicated) friendship with his sullen neighbor Charley (Julianne Moore).
But the loneliness, the great sense of loss, won’t go away, and it’s decision time. He’s packed up some things from his office, he’s emptied his safe deposit box, he’s neatly laid out an array of personal items on a table at home, and he’s gotten his hands on a gun.
All is set for his last day on Earth, but then life gets in the way, in the form of other people – one of his students (“About a Boy’s” Nicholas Hoult, all grown up) takes an interest in him; he realizes that while an afternoon drink is just right for him, Charley is downing them all day.
Between haunting flashbacks of the car wreck that took Tom from him, and happy memories of their times together, George’s emotions run rampant.
A central scene in the film, for which kudos go to both Firth and Ford, shows him getting the awful phone call about the accident. Ford just keeps the camera on him, and Firth hardly speaks, able to croak out only a few words, just letting his face do the acting. It’s riveting stuff. And it’s followed immediately by a grand example of cinematic sensibility, of George, unaware of how to react, running out into the rain, over to Charley’s place for comfort, with only the sound of the downpour on the soundtrack.
The director plays around quite a bit with time and place and reality and fantasy throughout the film, resulting in a dreamy, swirling effect to the storytelling, and oscillates between a washed-out look to a vibrantly colorful palette that turns into an exploration of how people see George and how he sees them.
Firth, who I believe is in every scene, truly holds court here as an actor, getting deeply lost in thought, then smoothly shifting into rant mode (with a side order of humor to go along with anger) when he tries to get a literary-personal point across to his students.
It’s an intricate, multi-leveled film, smartly and insightfully directed by Ford. Although most of the mood is glum, he’s adept at breaking it up with shining moments of humor.
It’s also a beautiful and moving story about friendship, love and loss, and moving on. That ending comes on like a slap in the face to the viewer, but every previous moment is a winning one.
The Patriot Ledger
A SINGLE MAN (Rated R for disturbing images and brief nudity). Written and directed by Tom Ford. Cast includes Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult. 3 stars out of 4