A Single Man is a day in the life of a middle-aged English college professor (Colin Firth) in Los Angeles in 1962 as he decides that he doesn’t want to live any more after the death of his long-term younger partner (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. During the day, he gives his lecture, has a conversation with a student (Nicholas Hoult), has dinner with his oldest friend, another ex-pat who still loves him (Julianne Moore), while preparing for the final day of his life; throughout this, he flashes back to various time points in his relationship with his lover.
This plot summary doesn’t necessarily do the film justice; this is a beautiful film that is both beautiful in its depiction of a relationship and the effect it has on the person left behind, and also as a beautiful film to look at. Tom Ford is more famous as a fashion designer, which might explain the quality of the visual element of the film, but he also co-wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of a book, and this is an amazing debut for a first-time director. Everything about this film is perfectly controlled and very assured, and it is also an extremely moving film about homosexual love in a mainstream setting.
I’ve never understood the hype of Firth the actor, but here he is simply amazing; he was a thoroughly deserving winner of the BAFTA for Best Actor (and he gave the best acceptance speech of the night), with a performance that is controlled but emotive in a non-revealing fashion, as a fastidious man who is detailed about every aspect of his life, requiring a very specific performance and demeanour from Firth, even though he did look a bit like a young Michael Caine with those glasses. The other main actors are excellent, especially as they are performing with non-native accents (Goode and Hoult with American accent, Moore with a fabulous English accent, and giving a particularly moving performance), but it’s Firth to whom the film belongs.
This a very good film that leaves an impact; it lingers in the mind for days after, with its perfectly choreographed and created visual style and powerful examination of grief. It’s a shame that Jeff Bridges had to win his much deserved Oscar for Crazy Heart, because I think Firth’s performance was the finest of the year (even though I think that Bridges is a better actor). It will be very interesting to see what both Ford and Firth do next.