A Single Man Review


“A Single Man” is a very interesting, relatively plotless character study about a man with no reason to live. It’s told in a unique manor, and it features some great acting, a moving score, and some beautiful set designs and costumes. So why only three stars? Well, the first ninety minutes of the film are worthy of a higher rating, but the conclusion of the film is awful. It completely negates everything that happened to the main character and renders our emotional growth with him worthless. I despised the way director Tom Ford wrapped things up to the point where I almost don’t want to recommend it. But I’m going to resist that temptation, for the rest of the film really is quite special.

George Falconer (Colin Firth) has decided today is the day he will finally kill himself. Months earlier, his lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), died in a car crash, and George still hasn’t recovered. He wallows in loneliness and sorrow—even getting out of bed in the morning is a chore. He works as a college professor, and his only companion is his friend and former flame Charly (Julianne Moore). So we watch as George puts his affairs in order and contemplates the time and manner in which he’ll take his life. But throughout the day, several things come along that remind him how precious life is and no matter how hard it might be, it’s not something to simply be tossed away.

I’ll get into the ending later (with spoilers, so consider yourself warned), but first I’d like to discuss what the film does right. “A Single Man’s” biggest asset is the performance by Colin Firth, an actor who’s been overlooked his entire career. I was so happy last fall hearing such raves about this performance, and I’m even happier to report that it lives up to the hype. George is a complicated individual, and Firth shows every side of him—the sadness, the loneliness, the reluctance to get close to anyone again, and the happiness during the flashback scenes with Jim. For a film with such little plot, it’s important to have a great performance to anchor your film. Firth gives that here.

He’s assisted in his emoting by the way in which Ford elects to present the material. Most of the film, like George’s psyche, is dark and colorless, giving the film a certain feeling of emptiness. But on those instances during which he brightens up (when he sees his sweet young neighbor, when he has a drink with a student), so does the film. Colors are bright, as is George’s outlook. It rarely lasts, however, and we are always reminded that George, no matter what comes his way, is a truly depressed individual.

Firth’s isn’t the only performance worth mentioning here. Julianne Moore, one of my absolute favorite actresses, is splendid as Charly, George’s only remaining confidant and friend. Her life is almost as empty as his. She dwells on the past (the two had a relationship when they were much younger) and spends most of her time drinking and smoking. More solid work comes from Nicholas Hoult as Kenny, a student of George’s who attempts to confirm Charly’s belief that love is like a carousel—one lover might go away, but another will be around the corner.

Technically, the film is on as solid ground as any. I was quite impressed by the score, courtesy of Abel Korzeniowski. It’s a bit overwrought at times, but for the most part, it’s devastating in all the right places. The costumes appropriately convey the time period. And the set designs are as beautiful as you’d expect when the director is a renowned fashion photographer.

Unfortunately, “A Single Man” goes off the rails at the end. Throughout the film, we are prepared for George’s suicide. It’s not something we look forward to, but all signs point to his eventual death. However, after reflecting on the day we witnessed, he realizes life is supposed to be hard, but there are lots of little things to get you through it. As soon as he decides to live, he has a heart attack and dies. What?!?!?!? I felt cheated. Not only is it incredibly contrived, but I also found it insulting. Why waste the audience’s time preparing them for one of two potentially understandable and satisfying conclusions when is going to die by chance? I’m not sure whether this was the ending in Christopher Isherwood’s novel upon which the screenplay is based, but I really didn’t care for it at all.

I don’t remember the last time a film’s conclusion annoyed me this much. It’s unfortunate because what precedes it is great. But Ford’s film loses a lot of points for its ending. I’ll try to remember this film for the good things (I don’t think Firth’s performance will escape my memory), but the number one thing I’ll take away from it is the sour taste in my mouth when the credits started rolling.

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