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Ten Word or Less Review: Visually arresting drama.  Great screenplay.

“A Single Man” is a pleasure to watch for many reasons.  Set in 1962, it’s about a gay college professor named Falconer, Colin Firth, but it’s not about the trials and tribulations that come with being gay in the 60’s.  Conflicts and angst about his sexuality are not at stake as it’s accepted and dealt with in a matter of fact fashion.  The beginnings of 60’s counter culture are popping up in college campuses like Falconer’s, but the film is not a retro, fetish fest replete with tiresome soundtrack staples that reflect the era.  Falconer is mourning the loss of his 16 year lover, Matthew Goode, but the film never falls into fits of spasmodic, emotional outburst.  Such would be crass and out of character for a film as emotionally in check as this one.  “A Single Man” is a story which could easily be ensnared into the typically arc styles mentioned above, but instead avoids tiresome clichés and situations and respects the nature of the story at hand, that being a film about a man mourning the loss of his life’s great love and the very meticulous planning of his own death.

“Man” could effectively be told in straight ahead fashion without stylistic flourishing, but in the hands of first time director Tom Ford, becomes an exercise in resplendent visual design and rhapsodic cinematography.  The film’s look is a constant expression of Falconer’s state of mind.  As what he is planning to be his last day on Earth starts, he looks into a world saturated in lifeless grays and dull blues.  As the day progresses the small things which he appreciates, his secretary’s refined looks, a young mans muscular body, the color palette briefly ripens into sumptuous colors.  It’s this psychological awakening of resplendent visuals which give “A Single Man” a quality in the technical department few films have.  There’s an argument to be made that perhaps the show off quality of the visuals draw too much attention to themselves, but I would strongly disagree.  This highly designed look is in service of the story at all times, not vice versa.  It would all be for nothing if the film failed on its other merits, failing to engage on any emotional level.  Such is not the case.

Colin Firth has appropriately been Oscar nominated for his calm, cool portrayal of a man set upon a decision to end his existence.  Firth doesn’t so much underplay Falconer as let him simmer calmly with his grief.  He’s a man who refuses to let his endless amounts of turmoil bubble up or pour over.  Though reserved, he never feels distant, vacant or emotionally unavailable.  He’s simply a pragmatic soul who no longer wishes to go through the motions of life without his true love.  Also, the movie doesn’t pound you over the head trying to make this homosexual relationship some kind of monumental political statement.  It’s simply a story of loss that pushes aside superficial politics.  Falconer is a man deserving of sympathy and in need of a cause to live.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Firth instills him with dignity and wit, never stooping to mad grasps at pity.  Julianne Moore has a noteworthy supporting role as Falconer’s neighbor/one time lover.  It’s a strongly written small part which is limited in time but has a lot of dynamic.  Moore does good work in a part which could easily have been overblown or melodramatic.

There’s more I’d like to say about “A Single Man” but it all revolves around the ending of the film and ruining endings is not something I relish.  To avoid spoiling anything, it’s an ending which is shocking and a little painful, but not in any way that this viewer was prepared for or saw coming.  The conclusion may turn some against the entire movie.  I’m still not sure myself why it accomplishes what it does the way it does.  But never the less, there it is and that’s that.  However it ends, “A Single Man” is a classy, thoughtful experience.  Firth is exceptional, and to see a film with such a refined, non-CGI endowed visual scheme is a real treat.


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