ASingleManBy Kit Bowen

First-time director Tom Ford paints his own portrait of A Single Man almost as if it were a piece of art – beautiful to look at, solitary and still, but with many layers of emotions hidden underneath. It’s a pure gem and showcases some stellar work by Colin Firth.

Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the film, set in the early ‘60s, focuses on a day in the life of George (Firth), a gay college English lit professor who only just became “single.” His longtime partner and love of his life, Jim (Matthew Goode), has died tragically in a car crash, and George is understandably having a rough time of it.

So, on this one fine day, he decides he’ll join Jim in the next world. But being the fastidious person that he is, George first has to make sure all his affairs are in order, including saying goodbye to his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore). What George doesn’t expect to find on this day, however, is some solace with one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). Through Kenny’s adoration and the possibilities he sees in his mentor, George discovers a sense of purpose he didn’t know still existed and eventually George realizes the importance of living in the present.

As I said before, Firth deserves this moment in the sun. I love it when an actor, who has been around for a long while and has done some pretty silly movies, gets to show off his mad skills and portray someone with such depth of character. His George is a quiet study in the simplicity of the human soul– an ordinary man who is a kind and caring friend, who excels in his profession – and who has loved and lost deeply. His name will certainly be on the Best Actor’s list, and he has a very good shot at winning the gold.

Also in the clear running for Best Supporting Actress is Moore as George’s slightly off-kilter divorced friend Charley. She’s just as lonely as George but hasn’t had the advantage of experiencing the same great love as George. She obviously would have liked to, at one point, with George himself, but that ship has passed – in fact, had never really been docked at all. Moore’s brief time onscreen is a marvel; if she doesn’t finally win the career Oscar she justly deserves, I don’t know what.

And rounding out the cast, Hoult – who we might remember as the chubby “boy” in About a Boy – has grown up and filled out quite nicely, while Goode (Watchmen) does a fine job giving us a warm feeling about Jim and his relationship with George.

The other genuine talent in A Single Man is writer/director Tom Ford, whose own mad skills as a fashion designer has lent itself to an easy jump to filmmaking. A Single Man is all at once languid, sexy, poignant, sad and very stylistic – all runway staples (except maybe the poignant and sad).

Of course, Ford isn’t at all interested in making an average film. Oh no, he’s got to add flair. Scenes in which George goes about his seemingly ordinary day are shot in a stark, harsh light, but when George views something of beauty – be it a sunset or some variation of the male form – the shots are lush and gorgeous. And he loves Firth’s face, which he shoots in close up after close up.

It is an extremely smart move for Ford to make his directorial debut with something so tailored made for him. You shine best when you fully understand the material. As for a longstanding career in filmmaking, however, that remains to be seen. It might be hard for Ford to top A Single Man.