January 24, 2010
Review - " A Single Man " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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"Brokeback," but only because his partner has been killed in an auto accident, in the very beginning of the film. By all
indications, George Falconer (Colin Firth) and his late partner Jim (Matthew Goode, seen in flashbacks) were both quite
happy with each other and content with who they are. Good for them, because "A Single Man" is likely to leave its audiences
in a decidedly dreary mood. Firth, a fine actor, one of our finest, who has nevertheless never gotten close to an Oscar
nomination, could possibly change his luck here. But his interpretations of grief, most of them non-verbal, are so effective that
they can’t help but be contagious as well.
Here is a low-key film about the generally low-key wandering of a man who is likely to be frequently described by friends and
colleagues as decidedly low-key. There is something tremendously unromantic about a guy who has thoughts of suicide and
lays out his personal effects and everything the survivors will need to make his departure as tidy as possible. Like some
demi-God of accounting misfits, George polishes his shoes just so every morning, ticks things off his 400-item mental to-do
list, and if he had tools in his garage would not only have the hook for everything, but the little tool-shaped outlines.
Through all that we see of George, he never once really acts, speaks, or thinks as though he is trying to figure anything out.
Perhaps like many who can only manage to feel crushed by loss, he is not. Not in a way that is conscious. The thoughts he
has are only about how to make it through each day now that Jim is gone.
George is a gay man in the 1960s, which means a life of double truths, of isolation and of fear, a life that has to be endured
for its few small joys. The one that made George's worth living was Jim, his partner of 16 years. And when Jim dies in a car
accident, there doesn't seem much left for George but to die as well.
If that sounds ungodly depressing, it is. Depressing can be good; there's a catharsis involved coming through a tragedy that
can be, if not uplifting, at least informative. Feeling sad can feel good. "A Single Man" is not that kind of depressing. It's the
turgid kind, the kind that wallows; then it wallows in its wallowing.
It starts out well enough as George awakens into the mess his life has become and begins to go about his day, marching
around alone and speaking largely to himself in voice over. About 20 minutes later when he finally leaves his house and
heads to his day job as an English professor, any good will has been drained away.
It shouldn't be this bad. It's fantastic looking, from great production design to some beautiful cinematography, and at least 50
Firth is staggeringly good as George, so good he single-handedly makes "A Single Man" a better film than it is. It helps that
he's in every scene, because he doesn't have much support. Except for a long scene with his friend from the good old days
(Julianne Moore), Firth spends his time bouncing from underrated actors like Lee Pace and Ginnifer Goodwin making the
most out of a few lines, to extended sequences with very young actors who look like underwear models and have a similar
acting range. Particularly George's young muse (Nicholas Hoult) who is more of a type than a character and gets stuck with
much of the film's worst dialogue.
Mostly it seems to come down to inexperience on writer/director Ford's part about the best way to go about the story he wants
to tell. He certainly knows what story he wants to tell and how to use an image, but doesn't seem to understand how it fits
together as a whole. After starting with some subtle dream images and visuals explaining what's happened to George and
how it's affecting him, he then wastes a lot of time driving the point home before moving on. Then he returns to it several more
The point is to put the audience in George's shoes, to feel what he feels, but he goes too far, with little to balance out the
sadness. By the halfway point I wanted to put a gun in my mouth.
Unfortunately, it feels like Director Ford is trying too hard at times. He fills A Single Man with too many moody, slow motion
sequences of George thinking he is looking at someone for the last time, or scenes in his nightmares playing out before our
eyes. Then, he doesn't make the case for why it is important to point out how this whole film is happening at the same time as
The Cuban Missile Crisis.
The audience doesn't get to
see any parallels or impact on
the story, so what's the point?
It’s no surprise that Firth is so
strong here, or that Julianne
Moore as George’s
cosmopolitan friend Charley is
equally as watchable. "A Single
Man" ends terribly, with a shrug
that makes it that much easier
to dismiss what you’ve just seen.
Overall "A Single Man" wastes
superb performances in a
mediocre drag of a film. If you
must watch it wait for the DVD.
A Single Man
Directed by: Tom Ford
Starring: Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, Julianne Moore
Four years ago the film "Brokeback Mountain" made a
great many headlines for depicting what its few
detractors complained what was not necessarily a typical
relationship between a man and a man. At least one of
the film’s two main characters was in denial about the
legitimacy of their relationship, and both were powerfully
The title character in "A Single Man" is if anything only
more miserable than Heath Ledger’s character in