I liked Tom Ford’s debut film quite a bit. An adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, the film is meticulously constructed throughout, both in terms (predictably) of the costumes and set design and the editing style. The latter probably harms the film somewhat, especially during the first few scenes in which Ford and editor Joan Sobel intercut and jump-cut all over the place. It does have a jarring impact which reduces as the film goes on, but it causes the first ten/fifteen minutes to be confrontationally creative and difficult for the audience to sink into.
The film succeeds through two components. The performances are excellent; Julianne Moore is superb but she does slightly suffer from her English accent which dives between the Queen’s and an East London trader in her closing inflections. Colin Firth though, who I’ve never been a fan of, is astounding. So easily is this the best performance of his career, that you worry that he will end up missing out on the Oscar (probably owing to Academy atonement towards Jeff Bridges) on the one occasion when he has absolutely found a synergy between his style and a character. More of that on the coming podcast.
The other thing that A Single Man does perfectly is intimacy. The relationships between all the characters are pitched just right. Firth and Moore, playing old friends and former flames – before Firth fell in love with Matthew Goode’s enchanter – manage to communicate all the years of hurt and regret which would exist between friends in which friendship is the desire for only one of the two. Moore, despite the accent issues, carries in her eyes all the years of quiet heartbreak which erupt into unintended attacks in a couple of barbed exchanges. Better though is Firth and Goode’s relationship. The two complement each other beautifully, and the scene in which the two are listening to music, huddled on a sofa and both reading, wholly captures the kind of quiet intimacy that any long-term, utterly right-for-each-other couple would have.
On Valentine’s Day weekend, in which the television screens will be bombarded by constant romantic comedies and the cinema is clogged by the shit-tacular-looking smugfest named after the day, you would be well advised to take the moments between Firth and Goode in this film as both an antidote to the saccharine crap being pushed onto you and as a touching representation of true love.