Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Single Man

The first I heard of this film was in the summer, when its star, Colin Firth, won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival. Awards pundits immediately placed him at the forefront of the Oscar discussion and this was called the role of his career so far. I have long been a fan of his, but admittedly most of my favorite roles of his were in the mold of what is probably still his most iconic performance, Fitzwilliam Darcy in the phenomenal 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

And, as far as it might be from Darcy (and Jack/Earnest Worthing, Jamie Bennett, and that other Darcy), I still think George Falconer, the eponymous single man of this film, is in somewhat the same mold. Stuffy on the surface and quick to disdain, but deeply passionate underneath, with an irresistibly sexy intelligence. Roles with that quality are what Colin Firth was made for, and he plays them exceedingly well. So when something like George Falconer came along, it must have been an enormous treat for Firth - a character with some familiarity, but with much more depth and layers and conflict than he'd ever been asked to attempt.

In A Single Man, directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, George Falconer is just trying to get through the day. A day he has decided is going to be his last. Eight months previously, his partner of sixteen years, Jim (played by the perennially beautiful Matthew Goode), was killed in a car crash. In one of several flashbacks, we see George get the call from one of Jim's cousins (Jim's parents will not acknowledge George). George accepts the news without a great deal of obvious emotion, but even through his shocked blank stare we can see how gutted he is at finding out that the memorial service is going to be "family only." And thus begins eight months of hell for George, who has lost the person who he loved most on earth but cannot openly grieve. This is set in the early 1960s, by the way, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We see George go through his daily details - waking up (which he says now physically hurts most mornings), getting immaculately dressed and polished, greeting his housekeeper, going to his job (he's a college professor). But something comes alive in him during one of his lectures, one of several faint glimmers of life throughout what he still intends to be his last day alive. We also see, through the film's flashbacks, George's life with Jim - how they met, a conversation on the beach, a boring night at home. He makes plans for later in the evening to visit an old friend, Charlotte (Julianne Moore), a woman he slept with a few times when they were young and who is his closest confidante. And he has a couple of encounters, one with a hustler and one with a student, that might have been romantic in other circumstances, but Jim is still too much in his heart.

This is just a downright gorgeous and powerful movie. There's a note of the obvious with one of the visual flairs that Ford uses - when George is feeling dead and blank inside, the film is washed out and colorless (without being straight B&W), and when he starts to feel more alive and connected with what's around him, there's a gradual infusion of color, almost as if the film is blushing. It's a little unnecessary, as if Ford doesn't quite trust his actor to express that feeling adequately, but it's hard to call it a flaw when it creates such a lovely contrast.

A Single Man is a gorgeous film with a brilliant performance at its center. Colin Firth has truly never been better. Just a wonderful heartbreak of a movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment