Tom Ford is a fashion designer. In 2008, he decided to try his hand at directing. His masterful debut, called A Single Man, is an adaptation of a 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel. It should come as no surprise why Ford -- who also wrote the adapted screenplay along with David Scearce -- chose this story for his debut feature. With the entire film taking place over the course of a single day, this is an artistic vision that relies on texture and mood more than most films do. We don't have months and months to meet George Falconer, but Ford's direction, along with Firth's unbelievable lead performance, makes you feel for this character more than you ever thought you would.

I'm reminded of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. Both films are told exclusively during one single day in Los Angeles. Ford's film isn't the three-hour spectacle that Anderson's is, but it's certainly epic in a different way. It's a roller coaster of emotions, that provokes more feeling than most films only dream of. There is an overwhelming subtlety to the picture as a whole and to Firth's central performance, but it isn't meant to be passive. By choosing not to resort to the glaring outbursts that Firth's character is certainly capable of, Ford is able to make a film much more powerful than over-dramatizing would result in. Many films are quietly effective, but few are able to be so devastating in doing so. 

Colin Firth's Oscar-worthy turn is a portrayal of a gay college professor named George Falconer. It has been eight months since his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) died in a car crash, and it's as if a piece of George has died off every day since. In the opening sequence, Firth delivers a striking voice-over detailing his morning routines. It begins with his dread of waking up. Some of us are morning people. Some of us love the chirping birds, the bright sun, the warm coffee. Not George Falconer. After adjusting his tie pin, he looks into the mirror and says, "Just get through the goddamn day". Firth's delivery of the line is not only perfect, but it is symbolic of what is going on inside of George's head. He can't be a gay man in public. He can't ask for the support of his peers while he is grieving for Jim. There are so many emotions inside of this man that are forced to stay bottled up, and that is why, at the end of this single day in Los Angeles, George Falconer has planned to shoot himself. 



When he manages to make it to school, he doesn't go about it like he usually would. Rather than focus on the Aldous Huxley novel his class is reading, George decides to talk about fear. He disturbs most of the class, but one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult -- completely transformed since his pleasant turn in About a Boy), seems to understand the lecturer's message. They have a long, heart-to-heart chat about everything from drugs to pencil sharpeners. There's a quiet awkwardness to the conversation, as if it's the first meaningful one that either person has had in a very long time.


George comes home from school and gets ready for dinner with an old friend. He and Charley (Julianne Moore) used to be romantically involved, but as George suggests, "it didn't really work out, did it?". The aura of loneliness present throughout their dinner is tough to deal with. We've been following George around for so long that we can't possibly believe someone can be more lonely than him, but Charley most definitely is. She shows signs of lingering feelings towards George, but he never shows the desire to take them seriously. It's a solid relationship, but one they never seem to have taken the time to truly define.


Abel Korzeniowski, the composer of the film's original score, is certainly a name worth-mentioning. He's created a breathtaking piece of music, one that sticks in your head throughout the film, and stays in it long after. It feels like a piece of yearning, as if it's the emotions in George's head playing out in music rather than bodily expression. The film's cinematography, courtesy of Eduard Grau, is stunning in its own right. The film certainly evokes the feel of 1962 Los Angeles, consistently changing from bleak grays, blacks, browns, and whites to vibrant reds and oranges. Every visual medium, from the colors to the clothing, is clearly the work of perfectionists. 


It's a shame that this Colin Firth performance will most-likely be reduced to nominations across the board. No performance from 2009 has conveyed more emotion than this one. His exterior actions are those of a broken record. "I know fully what part I am supposed to play," he says as he dresses in the morning. It takes a brilliant actor to induce such powerful emotions when playing this much of a reserved, confined, and structured character. It's a masterful performance.


What makes this film so special is the evident precision with which it was made. Every frame of this film seems to be done flawlessly, as if to represent the way George lives his life. His ordered closet, his polished shoes, his wrapped shirts. This is a man whose entire life is one orderly routine, except on November 30, George has decided to mix things up a little bit. It would be pointless to tell you whether or not George goes through with the suicide because that's not where the majority of the film's payoff lies. The real reward is seeing such a simple story told so elegantly and effectively.


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