January 28, 2010

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A Single Man (R)
A man contemplates his life in coolly fabulous surroundings in A Single Man, a movie written and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford.

And it shows — magazine-perfect interiors, Colin Firth looking Firthier then ever (it’s a mix of British repression and smoldering passion that is to some women what that Robert Pattinson kid is to girls under 20), an entire wardrobe that would make the person who dresses the characters on Mad Men weep softly. When, as it occasionally does, A Single Man drags a bit, you find yourself thinking things like “Wow, look at that bank lobby.”

As George (Colin Firth) gets up one sunny morning in California, 1962, we quickly understand that he is absolutely bleeding internally from heartbreak. He has lost someone, Jim (Matthew Goode), we soon learn, a man with whom he’d built a comfortable if quiet and somewhat secretive life. Because it’s 1962, George, a college professor, can’t be completely open with the world about what Jim is to him, can’t even go to Jim’s funeral when he dies in a car accident. He is left to suffer the loss of this man who was so completely his other half and suffer more or less alone. One person, George’s longtime friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a boozy divorcee who like George is originally from London, does know all about George and Jim. But she can’t completely be sympathetic either, lost in her own loneliness and her bitterness at never having the relationship with George she truly wanted.

George’s life is one of studied quietness. As he explains to his college students in a particularly lively lecture, fear rules their lives. Fear of The Bomb (it’s circa Cuban missile crisis), fear of The Other, fear of The Unknown. George, we soon realize, is struggling to break free of the fear, one way or another. For all that this is a quiet movie and one full of clever little visual tricks (the colors warming up when George is able to momentarily drop the façade with someone), A Single Man pulls you in and holds you — with its story, with Firth’s performance (which might actually be his best ever; it’s warm and human in a way I’ve never seen from him before) and always with its dreamy visuals. A

Rated R for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content. Directed by Tom Ford and written by Tom Ford and David Scearce (from a novel by Christopher Isherwood), A Single Man is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed by The Weinstein Company.