Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the film, set in Los Angeles in 1962, follows a day in the life of gay college professor George Falconer. Played with inspirational grace by Colin Firth, George, who has recently lost his partner of sixteen years in a tragic car accident, plans to kill himself once the day ends.
Throughout the course of the movie George reflects back on moments spent with his lost love Jim (Mathew Goode), with each memory pushing him closer and closer to his own demise. Along the way, however, he encounters friends and strangers who all seem to resonate some form of romance, whether it be impromptu, failed or even just its possibility.
A Single Man is filled with outstanding performances, the most exceptional one, of course, belonging to Firth. As reliable as ever, Firth finally seems to command his own film by portraying desperation in its most brutal form, as he must hide it from the world that surrounds him.
What is most crippling for George is that to express his grief he must also reveal his homosexuality, creating an entirely new pain.
Firth resonates complete isolation as he is locked within his own ideas of love and sexuality, which — in 1962 — are not shared by the majority of society. The only solace he can find is in his close friend Charley (Julianne Moore,), which unfortunately is half-hearted, since she herself has been pining for his affection for years.
Moore presents the traditional, convenient adoration of heterosexual love that George has so much trouble with, and her performance is phenomenal. She has not been this good since her role in 1997’s Boogie Nights.
And then there is Jim, whose portrayal by Goode gives the film its sweet, sincere tone, but also provides its most bitter one as he represents all which has been lost for George. Goode has charm that he conveys without even speaking, and it fits well into a character that cannot be forgotten.
The three actors each contribute their own talent to the film, but the real artist is designer Ford, who makes his directorial debut with stunning poignancy. His eye for fashion completes this film as it expresses intense romance, even when it is illustrated within such a heartbreaking situation.
Beauty is found in every single frame, whether it is George’s suit, Charley’s chic, mod hairdo — which resonates even more vividly with her stunning red hair — or in more simple scenes in which hardly any words are spoken.
One of the film’s most prominent moments is a dance sequence between George and Charley in which the 1962 classic instrumental song “Green Onions,” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, intercuts all dialogue and simply hints at the idea of possibility, even when tragedy is close by.
It is the film’s aesthetics, which are also accorded to the cinematography, that acknowledge the beauty George, as a single man, cannot. Ford’s true power as a director lies in his ability to showcase a film involving homosexuality without making a movie that is overtly about homosexuality.
A Single Man is not a “gay movie.” Not once does Ford underplay or exhaust the subject. A Single Man is a film about romance, with homosexuality adding to the isolation and plaguing pain that accompanies the main character’s loss.
Like Brokeback Mountain, Ford’s film moves far beyond the expected presence of a subject such as homosexuality in cinema and centers on the idea of not knowing what to do next after experiencing the loss of a loved one.
With an effort such as this, Ford, who is renowned in the fashion world already, is certainly deserving of a Best Director nomination at this year’s Academy Awards. But whether he receives one or not, his ability to create beautiful films is undeniable.