Colin Firth is subtly eloquent in Tom Ford's 'A Single Man'
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, December 25, 2009
Let us now praise Colin Firth, star of "A Single Man." Is there an actor working today who can simultaneously evoke heartbreaking loneliness and appealing warmth? Firth has always had a penchant for playing buttoned-up men whose chilly distance is only equaled by a beguiling sense of vulnerability -- a combination that makes his leading ladies (and, by extension, the audience) want to win him over and take care of him. How fitting that Firth should carry "A Single Man," a movie of quiet but potent emotional power, perfectly suited to his singular gifts.
In the movie, adapted from a Christopher Isherwood novel by Tom Ford, Firth plays George Falconer, a college professor living in Los Angeles in 1962. As "A Single Man" opens, George is awaking to another day, haunted by the memory of a departed lover. With its day-in-the-life structure, "A Single Man" could be accurately described as a relationship drama, with George impassively going through the motions of random encounters with friends, colleagues and strangers. (Julianne Moore delivers a woozy turn as George's best pal, Charlotte, and the stunningly attractive Nicholas Hoult plays one of George's students.) As "A Single Man" works its subtle magic, with George attaining an almost ecstatic vision of what it means to be alive, the movie takes on the momentum and narrative tension of a thriller, bringing the audience to the edge of its collective seat during its shattering final moments.
LFord, a fashion designer making a remarkably bold and assured debut here, alludes early and often to Alfred Hitchcock throughout "A Single Man." But it's his finely calibrated storytelling, rather than self-conscious film references, that makes filmgoers care so deeply about George, a compassion they may not even realize they've developed until the film's final moments.
Viewers familiar with the wonderful 2007 documentary "Chris and Don: A Love Story," about Isherwood's longtime relationship with the artist Don Bachardy, may recognize bits of their story in George's own (and they might recognize Bachardy himself in an early scene). Its gentle echoes of real life give "A Single Man" an elegiac layer of sweetness and meaning. In providing such a safe, sensitive space for Firth's eloquently restrained performance, Ford has captured the most mystical moments in life, when, as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke observed, two solitudes "protect and touch and greet each other."
Contains nudity and sexual content.