Film Review: A Single Man

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The Beauty of Pain

“Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty”

(A Single Man, Tom Ford, USA, 2009, 99 mins)

The gorgeous opening credits of this film set the tone for a compelling drama full of beauty, emotion and style. Set in the 1960s, this fantastic debut film from fashion designer Tom Ford demands attention.

From the opening black and white dream-scene, which shows Firth’s George Falconer gently positioning himself beside his dead lover at the scene of a snowy car-crash, it becomes clear that this is a film of intense beauty. Firth’s acting is astounding – his portrayal of heartbreak, confusion and loneliness flows flawlessly into lust, flashbacks of happiness and drunken joy, providing the film with its most notable masterpiece.

Ford’s creative background of course lends the visual style of this film – the editing moves from vivid colours, bright oranges and reds to de-saturated grey, white and black. Despite being increasingly noticeable and predictable as the film goes on, the choice to match George’s mood with colour and lighting allows the piece to move through a full spectrum of shades, from the black and white of the initial dream scene, to the peculiar muted tones in the repeated underwater body scenes, to the highly-saturated oranges of the car park scene. This delectable addition to the overall feeling of the movie adds to the intensity of the emotions portrayed.

The close focus on the naked body runs throughout the entirety of the film, focusing on the sensual areas of the characters, from lips to chest and an increased attention to eyes. This side-casts the potential to seem perverted, instead adding a sort of longing for closeness to George, and a reflection of the core images of romantic relationships. The biggest achievement of this film is to bring its audience in-line with George, despite our individual sexual preferences, identifying with the areas of love and lust that he has been robbed of.

Sound adds a fairly dramatic overtone to the film, with complete silences matched with long spurts of classical music. The silences themselves are heart-breaking; they surround Firth’s character, tease him, and remind him of his loss and tears across his loneliness. The saddest parts of the film are completely silent; the camera focuses on the emotional intensity alone.

A sort of dark comedy lends itself the storyline, which in affect stops the overall piece descending into some dark, depressed state of affairs. The scene in which George is working through his suicide positions allows a (potentially disturbing) light-hearted scene, that tends to allow the overall seriousness of the issues being dealt with to be subverted somewhat.

Nicholas Hoult’s Kenny is well played (despite a questionable accent) and of course allows the film’s switch around. As a supporting character, Hoult acting is perfect, although storyline-wise we don’t really get the chance to delve into his character much. Julianne Moore also offers a delightful additional character, playing George’s long friend and past lover Charley. The scenes filmed at her house show another side of George’s character, showcasing his tenderness and loyalty.

The ending is suitably tragic, bringing a deadly heart-attack to George just as he comes to piece with being alive. However, it suits the film and allows for overall closure – a fairytale ‘happy ending’ would have undermined the film itself.

Overall a fantastic, beautiful, heart-wrenching film, shaped with brilliant acting, close attention to lighting and colour, great cinematography and an intense script. Already award-winning, this film deserves all the recognition it can get.

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