Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009

A Single Man

Directed by Tom Ford
With Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult and Julianne Moore
Opens Dec. 11

For close to three decades, Colin Firth has been a reliable, gently seductive leading man in the theater (Another Country), in movies (Mamma Mia!) and on TV (as the dreamboat Mr. Darcy in the BBC's 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice). But he never got that Role of a Lifetime that actors pray for — until now, in Tom Ford's adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel. The movie earned Firth the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival and ensures him serious consideration for an Academy Award.

George is a middle-aged Englishman teaching literature at a Los Angeles college in 1962 and grieving delicately and obsessively for Jim (Goode), his lover of 16 years, who recently died in a car crash. Seeing no reason to continue his own life, George meticulously rehearses his suicide, by gunshot, but has trouble finding a practical or aesthetically elegant way of carrying it out. So over the course of a long day, he listens idly to his colleagues' worries over the Cuban missile crisis; has dinner with his oldest friend, a London socialite (Moore, never more glamorous); and allows some erotic flattery from one of his students (Hoult). All these are distractions as George prepares for death in the manner of a samurai or Roman senator and bathes in memories of his precious Jim.

Tom Ford — the Texas-born fashion designer who for a decade was the creative director at Gucci — financed this first feature himself. The producer couldn't have hired a smarter director. Playing to Firth's subtleties, he swathes the actor's handsome, mourning face in the caresses of close-ups. Ford is also attentive to the varieties of Southern California sunlight, which lends A Single Man an orangey warmth to offset the bleakness in George's frayed heart. For a gentle man who's lost his love, solitude has become a life sentence that simply must end. Firth makes that ache subtly, splendidly visible.