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Firth Turns in a Stunning Performance in ‘A Single Man’

Maija Gustin | Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beautifully crafted, fashion designer-turned-movie director Tom Ford’s “A Single Man,” based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood and starring Colin Firth, is a stunning story and a tribute to Ford’s eye as a director. The film features Firth as George, an English professor living in 1962 Los Angeles, going through one single day, Nov. 30. George has recently suffered the loss of his partner of 16 years, Jim (“Leap Year’s” Matthew Goode), in a car accident and plans to kill himself on this day. What follows is a haunting story of one man, searching for meaning and purpose through a few chance encounters, faced with the ultimate decision: whether to live or die.
 

The plot itself seems a little one-note, with George remembering his past with Jim in everything he sees, but Firth delivers the performance of a lifetime. His every expression, particularly his eyes, which Ford so stunningly captures, are saturated with the deepest levels of emotion, truly capturing one man’s utter despair. His performance is subtle and nuanced, leaving the film more heartbreaking than if it had been left in the hands of a less capable actor. His almost guaranteed Oscar nomination is well deserved, to say the least.
 

A compelling cast of characters stand behind George to provide real emotional depth to the film. Although only ever seen in flashbacks, Goode is charming and beguiling as Jim, really capturing the profundity of his relationship with George. As the audience is given more and more glimpses into the life they once had together, his death becomes all the more heartbreaking. Julianne Moore gives a staggering performance as Charley, George’s aged-socialite best friend, dealing with loneliness after yet another divorce. She is depressing and pitiable, but never loathsome, and proves to be a wake-up call of sorts for the confused George. Nicholas Hoult, that little kid from “About a Boy,” puts on a convincing American accent to play one of George’s young students. He takes on his shoulders the weight of, perhaps, the most important of George’s emotional encounters, and while their relationship is somewhat predictable, it somehow moves beyond mere superficiality. The cast, rounded out by some quick cameos from the likes of Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”) and Lee Pace (“Pushing Daisies”), creates an overall impressive ensemble.
 

This ensemble, and Firth in particular, is really what holds the film together. The plot, while certainly enticing, seems slow and repetitive at times. Although each moment pushes George in one direction or another, the quietness of the story seems to make the movie trudge along a little too slowly.
 

Even if the overall plot of the film is flawed, though, Ford’s distinctive vision is captivating. Each shot is masterfully crafted, from the cinematography to the costumes, and the overall ambience of the film is really one of its greatest accomplishments. Ford proves to be as stylish with his films as he is with his clothes. He hones in on the tiniest details of a shot with the camera, creating a more intimate type of film. And, not surprisingly, his costuming can be both expressive and shocking, even simultaneously. Accompanied by a beautiful score from composer Abel Korzeniowski, “A Single Man” is, at the least, truly stunning.
 

In the end, though, it is Firth’s superb performance that holds “A Single Man” together, and he is deserving of all the good buzz he has gotten. It’s about time this talented actor was recognized.