A Single Man review or why Tom Ford is a very interesting director :)


A Single Man (USA, 2009)

Seen: Tuesday, 2nd May 2010 (cinema, special screening)
Runtime: 99′
Director: Tom Ford
Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode
Production House: Artina Films, Depth of Field, Fade to Black Productions
Plot: (from imdb)

A story that centers on an English professor who, after the sudden death of his partner tries to go about his typical day in Los Angeles.


Rating: +2 (Adored It)

Impressions In Short
Basically, it lived up to my expectations (which is a big achievement I think :)). The one surprise of the film is how funny it is. I found it absolutely hilarious a lot of the time (awkward and sarcastic humour rather than slapstick of course).

More About the Film
Visually the film is stunning. The aesthetics of it are very meticulous - the fashion, the set design, the lighting and even the grainy texture of the film. It captures the essence of that period (the film is set in 1962) and is stunningly beautiful at the same time.
I find that today’s cinematography tends to differ aesthetically from photography quite a bit, but this is not the case with A Single Man. There are a lot of beautifully, but very “photographically” composed frames. Even the narration is slightly “photographic” - the film is basically a set of vignettes from George’s life.
I’m pretty certain that the film’s style has been heavily influenced by Tom Ford’s experiences as a fashion designer, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s given the film a very unique look and feel and I’m rather looking forward to seeing Tom Ford’s future film projects.
Colin Firth is brilliant, but to be honest he does nothing that I didn’t already believe him capable of ;) The fact that he works so well in this has a lot to do with Tom Ford’s direction. Ford clearly has a great sense of his actors and he seems to have an amazing feel for how to show off their strengths. I suppose some of it is down to how he dressed and made them up (Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult both look absolutely stunning in the film) and they’re also cast extremely well. But it’s more than that, especially in Colin Firth’s case.
I tend to think that the way Colin Firth’s performance was shot and edited was not just a purely aesthetic choice on Tom Ford’s part. I mean I can’t exactly prove it, but a lot points that way IMO ;-P
Colin Firth was kept in close shots most of the time. With many actors I would have hated such a huge reliance on them, but with Firth it actually works better that way. He’s a ridiculously restrained actor, but also a very genuine and honest one. Sometimes close-ups pick up on actors looking fake or over the top, but with him that’s not really an issue. And because he’s so restrained, you get to see a lot more of the feelings he’s expressing when you have him in close shot.
What’s usually true of restrained actors (as I keep saying ;-P) is that they work better when you give them slightly longer shots and let them have their silences, so again this is something that Ford really took care of.
The scene that Firth gets praised for the most is the fateful phone call and if you take a look at it you’ll see it relies very heavily on both keeping him in close shot and on letting him take it at his own pace, no rushed editing. It was one of the scenes where Ford was particularly careful to keep it like that and I’m pretty sure he did this very consciously. The scene is very long (that clip is only part of it), but for the whole duration of it Ford practically doesn’t cut away from Colin Firth’s face (there’s that one short shot of his hand on the glasses, but that’s it I think). And once the phone call is over and George puts the phone down, the silence that follows is very long and yet there’s still no cut. Colin Firth quite rightly gets praised for that scene - it’s a very difficult one to do for a number of reasons (the sudden change of mood is a major one), but Tom Ford makes sure you don’t miss any of his brilliance *grin*
I was quite annoyed to have read a lot of homophobic comments on the film on-line. They usually say something along the lines of “I have nothing against gays, but the film really rubbed my face in it”. The thing is that’s just not true :] As far as homosexuality goes it really isn’t that explicit. Yes, men kiss in it and also they flirt, but that’s it! Where it does go quite far is in sexualizing the male body. But to be fair, it sexualizes the female body as well. We get a lot of close-ups on lips, eyes, male chests and so on. Some people seem to equate the sexualization of the male body with homosexuality, which annoys the hell out of me. Straight women like ogling male bodies too and it would be nice if people actually acknowledged that fact. Anyway, rant over - just needed to get that off my chest ;)
I had a lot of fun with the sexual part of the film generally speaking. Apart from a lot of opportunities to ogle beautiful men, there was some great innuendo going on. I particularly loved the scenes between George and Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). I was quite taken aback by some of the flirting towards the end - there were some unmistakable Domination/Submission undertones there ;) Loved the way Kenny asks “Is that an order?” *grin* That whole dynamic between them felt quite taboo because of their age difference (Nicholas Hoult was 18 at the time of shooting and Colin Firth was 48 I think and playing someone in his fifties). I find it quite curious that I’ve not come across any derogatory comments about this yet (I was sure someone would say an age difference like that is sick, but seems I was wrong ;)). I have, however, found some accusations along those lines relating to a completely different part of the film. The imdb thread about this is here and I found it absolutely hilarious, the idea of interpreting that scene in that manner hadn’t even occurred to me lol
I absolutely loved the humour of the film, although I probably should add it was one of those days when it was mainly me and Kin laughing even though the cinema was almost full *sigh* But really it was funny, I swear ;) And even the rest of the cinema started laughing when he was planning his suicide. There’s this wonderful (and completely silent - no dialogue or voice-over) sequence where George is trying to find the best place and position to shoot himself - in bed, in the shower or maybe he should use a sleeping bag to stop the blood from soiling the bed sheets. Morbid humour, I know, but it was really funny.
The main criticism I’ve seen levelled at the film is that it’s very cold and that it’s too much about the aesthetics. I didn’t find the aesthetics and the rushes of colour to be bothersome in the least. They made total sense in the context of what Tom Ford was trying to do. But I do agree that it’s quite a “cold” film. The only “warmth” comes from Colin Firth really - he’s the one totally genuine human element of the film and all the feeling comes from him (not that the other actors don’t put in very good performances, but they’re just not used in the same way - the film is told through George). In a way, maybe this is why this film has not made my “+3 category”. It has a lot of factors that would normally make me connect with it on a very personal level, but I haven’t really. I love it to bits, but I just haven’t quite connected with it in that way (then again my feelings may change the next time I see it, we shall see :)).

Definitely, it’s quite simply a great film. So unless you’re completely not into art house stuff on any level or unless you don’t like watching films with gay themes even when the sex is not explicit, I’d say give it a go :)

Leave a comment