Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A Single Man

2009. Dir: Tom Ford. Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicolas Hoult and Jon Kortajarena. ●●●●○

I am not a student of film. Like the proverbial boor I know nothing about art, but I know what I like. Indeed it is the way a movie stirs me or causes me to think about the situations of the characters that I most like about films, and that guarantees a positive review. It is with that in mind when I say A Single Man left me cold. I appreciate it's a well made movie, stylistically and thematically stimulating but for me it comes across as an exercise in great film techniques and not as a great film.

The film follows Professor George Falconer (Colin Firth, giving an excellent low key performance) during a seemingly ordinary day. He has breakfast, goes to work, visits his bank and has dinner with his closest friend Charley (Julianne Moore). As the day progresses we become increasingly aware that Falconer intends this day to be his last, he plans to end his life because it is now empty, because his one love (Matthew Goode in flashbacks) has died and he cannot see a way forward without him; "Getting up hurts" without Jim in his life.

Luckily for director Tom Ford Firth rises to the challenge in the role. The wistful way he touches his lips in the opening scene, remembering Jim kiss is painfully real. Another stand-out is the moment when he hears of Jim's death in flashback and slowly sinks into himself. First is able to convey not only the horror of losing a loved one but also the betrayal he feels for it happening elsewhere, where he cannot attend the funeral and start to build a new life. Finally the indignation that his best friend still doesn't understand the importance of his relationship and the cry against "substitute" is a feeling I believe many of us know only too well.

Not only does the camera track Falconer, but it often reflects his state of mind, the cinematography appearing muted and fuzzy during most of the time, with occasional bursts of colour and definition co-inciding with occasions when his senses are heightened. Whilst this could be heightened by a smell or a gesture or, as often as not, by sexual arousal. The camera also focused on little details, eyes, lips in extreme close-up daring us to look for the telling details that show the characters true moods.

Not that we ever really get the chance. As this is essentially Falconer's movie all the other characters are defined purely in terms of their relationship to him, and whilst we have a clear idea of Falconer and his motives the remainder of the cast are more iffy. This does work well - if we take Nicolas Hoult's enigmatic student as en example during the number of scenes he shares with Falconer we understand clearly that the professor is curious about the boy and is stifling feelings towards him by Hoult's actions could equally be defined as callously observant or sexually precocious.

The design is generally light on detail as befits a work about grief, and naturally the costumes are all utterly gorgeous.

On the negative side I suppose I was not taken in by the central conceit. It seemed to me that Falconer was crying out in every conversation that he had that this was his last day on earth and that he wanted someone to stop that. This therefore removed the dramatic tension for me, and whilst the last minute was surprising, the five minutes beforehand were pretty well telegraphed in the movie.

There was also something self-consciously arty about the whole enterprise, the same camera tricks I spoke of earlier with the changing focuses and extreme close-ups seemed to be a case of shoving in too much style. But as I said at the beginning, I'm no artist.

Overall a very well made film, if one that I would struggle to recommend to see.


TomS said...

A thoughtful review Ben,...Sorry you did not make an emotional connection....

Art affects people in different ways...

I imagine you will react to it differently if you re-watch it in the future...

Alex in Movieland said...

uh, can't wait to see this one...

but, not enough words on Julianne :)

Runs Like A Gay said...

I certainly believe this will be a film my opinion will change about over time, and I certainly intend to watch it again a few months down the line.

Julianne was great, but like the rest of the characters she is really only seen through the eyes of Falconer and therefore is as much of a cypher as the rest of the performances.

I fully support Colin's Bafta win, though.