A Single Man was one of those times where I went into a movie with almost no preconceptions about what I was going to see. I knew it was Tom Ford's directorial debut, I knew Colin Firth was getting rave reviews for his performance, and I knew the very basics of the plot. Other than that, I didn't really have any notion of what I was about to see.
So, the basics of that plot then. Colin Firth plays George, a professor of English, whose lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), has been dead some months now. We follow grief-stricken George as he lives what he intends to be the final day of his now empty life.
Colin Firth is the best thing in A Single Man. He plays George perfectly, never losing the grief which drives him even during the lighter moments. It's easy to undersand why Firth has been oscar nominated for this performance, as it's also light years from the sort of thing we've come to expect from him (I'm looking at you Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones). This is no idealised, romantic lead, but a lonely and desperate middle aged man who feels he no longer has a place in the world, and you can't help but feel for him.
So much has been made of Firth's performance though, that the other performances do seem to get short shrift. Nicholas Hoult is brilliant as Kenny, the student who forms a bond with George, displaying a near perfect American accent and giving what may well amount to his best performance since About A Boy. Julianne Moore as George's best friend, Charley, is also wonderful, though, lets be honest, who expects anything less from her these days.
The performances are by far the best thing in this film. Tom Ford, moving from the fashion world into film via the costume department on the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace, acted as screenwriter (the script is based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood), producer and director, his first time in all these rolls, and both his fashion background and his inexperience in these rolls come to the fore. The film is shot well, but there soon becomes an overeliance on slow motion close-ups and other camera tricks. While some of these work (in particular an early shot of George driving past his neighbours house and watching the children at play), after a while it merely becomes an annoyance. Used sparingly, this kind of shooting can look beautiful (as a few of them here do) and have a point. The number of them used in this film only works against it, however, often making the film come across as pretentious and self-serving instead.
Likewise, the script telegraphs everything within the opening twenty minutes. The ending is obvious right from the start, and there's not one thing which happens which you didn't see coming earlier on. The cast, who it has to be said again, are stunning, do their best to cover it, and the dialogue itself is well written, but the actual storyline comes across as having been adapted clumsily.
That said, I haven't actually read the novel, so it's entirely possible that this was already in there. But, as any good scriptwriter knows, what works in prose doesn't always work on screen, and in an adaptation, you have to work around this.
I wanted to see the film more out of curiosity than anything else, and that seems to be the word which best sums it up:- a curiosity. It is worth a look, for the performances if nothing else (did I mention how good these are?), and Ford does show some promise. If he can curb some of his showier tendencies, then he has the potential to be an excellent director. I for one will be interested to see what he does next.
Oh, and much as he deserves it, Firth won't win the oscar. That'll go to Jeff Bridges. Trust me on this.
(Addendum: It did)