Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Life Of Quiet Desperation Fashionably Rendered

A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford, 2009)

College professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) lives his life in a neat orderly manner. Every item is his home is arranged appropriately and every piece of clothing he wears is impeccably pressed.

Firth is living what Thoreau called a life of "quiet desperation" (a quotation our lead is undoubtedly aware of and not just because he teaches English) ever since his lover Jim (Matthew Goode - seen in flashbacks) of 16 years died in an automobile accident 8 months previous. It's Los Angeles 1962, in the days after the Cuban missile crisis, and the influence of beat culture is strong on Firth's students, but the fear of war and total annihilation is stronger. Firth's inner torment distances him from the communal worries of the day. From the outset of the film we see that he has decided to get through the routine of one last day before he takes his own life. He buys bullets for his handgun and tries to figure the best way to kill himself without leaving too big a mess for his maid.

Firth's dignity and poise is intact as he flirts with a Spanish hustler (Jon Kortajaren) in a liquor store parking lot and as he converses with one of his students (Nicholas Hoult) who may be interested in more than class consultation.

However Firth does lose his well cultivated composure during a dinner visit with long-time friend and ex-lover Charly (Julianne Moore) who has had a thing for him for years. Moore ponders the relationship he had with Jim; "wasn't it really just a substitute for something else?" Firth jumps up and exclaims: "There is no substitute for Jim anywhere!" 

There is a washed out quality to the film - grey grainy tones make up most shots but color rushes in with red hues heightened when sensuality is implied. With such subtle touches abounding, it's a definitive "art film" that's an impressive debut for a Fashion Designer best known for magazine layouts. Firth's performance is an intensely nuanced balance of grace and pain. It's some of the sharpest acting out there now and it will be shocking if he's not nominated. 

Maybe not an Oscar, but Ford's direction deserves notice too for it recalls the work of Julian Schnabel while showing its own promise in illustrative invention. Although a bit slow paced, A SINGLE MAN has its indulgences in check and is a quietly absorbing work of refined beauty. It's a passionate portrait of grief that knows that there isn't a substitute for a lost lover any more than there is a substitute for life.

More later...


Jake Munn said...

Great, sounds like i'll have to check it out!

Anonymous said...

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Kate Smith