"The service is just for family."

A Single Man

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            "A Single Man" is a movie that taps into our own growth. Finely acted, it doesn't entertain and then vanish, but stays with us, asking to be revisited. In an immensely delicate portrait, Colin Firth takes us into the process of grief, but he is not helped by fashion designer/director/scriptwriter Tom Ford who builds the film around Firth in multiple images that are often jarring. Firth, actor and character, doesn't fit easily in the world Tom Ford creates for him. He is vulnerable and authentic while his director seems obsessed with surfaces. Firth's George Falconer, professor of literature, seems out of place in a glossy world of luxury houses, sand, and sun.

            George, the slightly awkward, rather stiff George, answers the phone and hears the news that his partner Jim (Matthew Goode) has died in a car crash while on a family visit. The caller, though respectful, remains distant before delivering the heartbreaker that haunts such partnerships: "The service is just for family." These men had been in a committed partnership for sixteen years.

            On what may or may not be his last day of the life he is considering ending, George applies his trademark precision to cleaning out his safe deposit box, his desk in the English department where he teaches, and to buying bullets for his pistol. All during this day of preparation, memories of life with Jim stamp themselves in his mind. He spends an evening drinking and reminiscing with his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore). The scenes of Charley preparing herself for dinner with George have the theatrical feel of a photo shoot - Mr. Ford again. Julianne Moore, always effective, still shows us that she is as lost a soul as George.

            In any partnership built on love, lust, though it may not disappear, often slips into perspective over years while other things strengthen the bond - fun, working together, adversity, adventures, shared time. In one scene where George and Jim, at either end of a couch, are reading quietly is especially revealing of the depth of their feelings. I wish we had seen more of that.

            I could also have done without the prolonged shot of George, immaculately dressed in shirt and tie, sitting on the pot while observing the ordinary lives of his neighbors through slats in the bathroom window blind. Did it enrich the mood or advance the story? Or did it simply reflect the compulsive need of contemporary filmmakers to show men going to the bathroom in one way or another. I was happy when George got off the pot.
No reservations I have about this movie can diminish the performance of Colin Firth. He is simply marvelous in his reserve and dignity as he builds the character of a man devastated by grief for the man he lost. His subtle and touching performance plants many questions in our minds about acceptance and about the universal nature of love and loss and sadness.

 


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