Thomthumb84's Blog

Film Review: A Single Man

Posted in Film Review by thomthumb84 on August 23, 2010

I’m not a great fan of the staff at the HMV on Oxford Street. They lack the energy and enthusiasm of the fabled staff of Empire Records but are also not yet old enough for the cynicism of the Championship Vinyl crew.

They all just seem to be on a permanent work experience placement – just dawdling along the aisles and playing with their dreadlocks or latest metallic facial appendage while contemplating which ‘ironic’ t-shirt they will wear on the cover of NME when their folk/hiphop/metal band really ‘makes it big’.

For this reason I’m always reluctant to ask for their help. I will spend a good hour of my life trawling the store just so that I do not have to deal with their dull, bored, eyes or the rather unremarkable curl of their lip as they judge me inefficiently ‘cool’ to help.

This is why I found myself in a vain hour-long search of the aforementioned store last week. You would of thought ‘A Single Man’ would have at least been on display somewhere. It’s relatively new isn’t it? It got shit loads of coverage, it’s got a great cast, and from what I understand it did pretty well in the ratings. But it just wasn’t there.

I began to admit psychological defeat and with head in hands approached the nearest staff member to be slouching against the World Cinema section and staring into space. But then it occurred to me. How do I go about this one?

“I’m looking for A Single Man. Can you help me please?”
“Hello. Do you know where I can find A Single Man?”
“I’d like to buy A Single Man please.”

No. I would not give them the satisfaction. Not a chance. So I went back to the search. A further fifteen minutes later and I still hadn’t found it and approached one young employee who seemed to have grown, moss-like, out of the Children’s TV section. I even had the structure of my question ready for him “Hello. I wish to purchase a copy of the movie entitled ‘A Single Man’ on DVD please.”

Unsurprisingly he looked at me like I was a retard (I would have looked at myself as though I were a retard) and led me to the Gay cinema section. Yeh. I was a retard. He spent a good minute staring at me as though I was a particularly unattractive bit of shit stain in his skull-patterned boxers then went off to have a well-earned nap in the stock room.

But as I paid for my purchase and left I began wondering why I should of naturally assumed it would be in the gay cinema section anyway. I do appreciate that it was directed by Tom Ford and the plot revolves around that of a gay man and that one of the reasons for his alienation is his inability to relate to others in homophobic 1960s America.

However, this is also a movie about a man coming to terms with loss and loneliness. Certainly, the context of 1960’s USA makes his sexuality a matter of interest. But to say that this is the fundamental point of the movie – enough for it to be the defining feature of its genre selection – seems incorrect to me. While the fact that his partner is a man does have a minor relation to the nature of his relations with other people it is not what holds this story together. It is not a story about him coming to terms with his sexuality, nor is it a ‘coming out story’ or anything like that.

It’s a movie about someone losing someone else that they love. If it were the other way around would this be in the ‘hetro section’ somewhere? Whether it was the fact that I had to deal with that nasty little HMV creature or not it did get on my nerves. I would be very interested to hear if this is just an HMV specification or it is being put in Gay cinema sections everywhere.

Anyway. Yes! The movie! Great movie! First off, the actual shots are gorgeous.  As I said, fashion designer Tom Ford directed this and you can tell. Each shot is a masterpiece of aesthetic concern. It feels very much like a carefully choreographed photo shoot with only those most pleasing of objects and tones of light making an appearance.

The lighting is well used as a narrative tool with George Falconer often living in a drab world of greys and blacks and the younger, more optimistic cast lit with a bright and sunnier tone that reflects the moods of each.

I was particualrly taken by one scene in a carpark between Falconer and a man who is trying to pick him up. The action takes place in front of a billboard advertising Psycho – a minimalist poster in purple – and against this we have Falconer’s sharp black car.

As the scene progresses the sun is setting, which makes the scene glow with unusual, but not unnatural, colour. This is even reflected upon by the man in question, who remarks that it is the smog which gives the sunsets such an unsual colour.

The man in question, by the way, is one Jon Kortajarena, a spanish model and Tom Ford regular, who I am informed is ‘hot’ by my girlfriend. This seems to be a sentiment shared by Wikipedia who describe him as ‘known for his distinguishing chiseled cheekbones, piercing stare, and full pout’.

Having pursued this movie primarily because of the obvious emphasis on how it was shot I was ready to accept that the acting was probably going to suffer. But this just wasn’t the case. Putting Mr Kortajarena to one side the cast were superb.

Colin Firth emits this general aura of melancholy throughout but also managed to present a feeling of simmering anger, or at least impatience. You really notice this when he is dealing with his students but also with Falconer’s friend Charley (played by Julianne Moore) when he is quick to rise.

Matthew Goode is as entrancing as ever in his role as Jim, George’s late partner. I remember seeing him in Brideshead Revisited and being blown away. He is suave in a very 1940’s RAF pilot sort of way and manages to find a very interesting balance between a roguish young scamp around town and a sophisticated English gent. It’s interesting to watch and certainly not something I have ever seen pulled off before.

Julianne Moore is great too. She has had some pretty bad movie points to live down but here she seems relaxed in the role is actually having fun with it. The chemistry between her and Firth works well and produces some interesting moments. Charley, the alchoholic best friend of Falconer, harbours some strong feelings towards him which he gently rebuffs. She drowns her own melancholy under a sea of gin and false gaiety but with Falconer you see this being constantly stripped back by Falconer’s reactions to her. And through the length of dunk evening you see her temperate go crazy.

Nicholas Hoult plays Kenny Potter, a student in Falconer’s class who becomes fixated with his lecturer. While I wasn’t crazy about how he played it he had his moments. I think more could have been done to express the nervous enthusiasm he felt around Falconer – he likes him but he doesn’t know why etc.

But that experimental nervousness is there in some scenes – particularly when he undresses in front of Falconer. It’s just a shame it isn’t explored further.

Plot and story structure are great. It moves at a nice pace that allows us to languish in those shots while not going so slowly that you don’t care what’s going on. The Theatre Studies and English Lit student in me wants to point out the ticking of the clock throughout, and also one line I seem to remember about his watch stopping at one point as he forgets the circumstances of the day. But I wouldn’t do that.

It’s a great movie and well worth seeing – a compelling snapshot of melancholy that is captured with style and grace (Can they quote me on the posters or something? Go on! That line deserves it!). Go check it out. It’s in the gay Cinema section.

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