Tom Ford has made two movies so far. I’ve now seen his entire filmography. He wasn’t off to a good start when I found Nocturnal Animals (2016) to be a poor man’s attempt at turning an art exhibit into a frustrating and aimless movie. Going into A Single Man, my hopes were dashed, shrouded in judgement and I was scared for what I might experience. More of the same experiences I had with Nocturnal Animals I assumed. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. To give some minor credit to Ford, I’d wanted to check this film out for a while, given that it gave Colin Firth his very first Academy Award nomination.
A Single Man stars Colin Firth and deals with the death of his lover. Lucky for us it’s a straightforward story and Firth is always a safe pair of hands when it comes to movie magic. I really had no idea what to expect from this movie when going into it, and I suppose that’s the best way to prepare for a Tom Ford movie. Don’t. Instantly, as soon as the movie starts, I was impressed with every minute detail. The soundtrack was magnificent in these opening scenes, and the wide variety of camera shots used to display a horrific accident that sets the tone of the entire film is wonderfully done.
Colin Firth, in this movie, gives one of his best performances to date. It’s better than the performance he won an Oscar for. In only ten minutes, Firth manages to assert his dominance in carrying the film, along with providing heartbreak and a whole slew of other emotions. Impressive isn’t the word for it, intensity is one of his best weapons and it’s great to see him using this so effectively throughout what should’ve been a very straight forward movie.
A great deal of the scenes in this movie are brilliant, they also contain a great deal of Firth doing his best not to cry, but then crying anyway. That one scene of Firth crying in the rain is absolutely superb. My only concern with the film really was that, every now and then it was broken up by consistent flashback scenes. These scenes set up the plot rather well, however I’ve often found flashback scenes to be a really poor way of explaining a story to the audience. Here it’s not too bad and does work to some degree, but I can’t help but feel it gets in the way from time to time.
What is a genuine problem though is the severe underutilisation of Julianne Moore, who doesn’t really do all that much throughout the movie. What’s she really there for, other than support for a lead character who is expressed consistently as a suicidal loner. To me it feels a little bit of an awkward transition to see so much well built storytelling from Firth alone, only to throw another actor into the mix. It’s a shame as well, Moore is a phenomenal actor and it’s a shame she almost anchors the plot into a pseudo-style romantic subplot that really doesn’t go anywhere at all.
It’s these early scenes that set up the rest of the movie so magnificently well. Firth opens, closes and explores the film with a series of impressive monologues, all seemingly written by someone that has just about the vaguest idea of what the story may hold. They’re all ambiguous in their own way, not really making any sense yet at the same time it’s a bold move to include them. Still, it all works out in the end, adding together to create a great bit of storytelling, most of which is helmed by a very strong Colin Firth performance.
Considering this is a Tom Ford movie, there’s a lot to be looked at in the way of artistic values and overall just how his use of colour and more subtle changes throughout the movie paint a much bigger picture. The frequently used bland colours in Firth’s office perfectly capture the character, along with the rest of the movie capturing a very significant, zeitgeist capturing time. Ford’s direction is rather superb here, there’s no strange camera shots like there are in Nocturnal Animals. Sometimes he tries so hard to be auteur he looks like a fool, like when there’s consistent slow motion shots in the most mundane of times. It makes it look rather forced, awkward and above all really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to include at any point in the movie. Ford’s direction is definitely the largest problem of the movie, but the studio executives seem to have lavished in a large amount of constraint on his creative vision, his vision being a consistently moving camera that zooms in and out at random times I presume.
What strikes me as odd here is that, Colin Firth looks older here than he does in Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. It’s like a disgustingly freakish case of Benjamin Button syndrome, and I don’t think I like it. What I do like however is pretty much everything about this movie. It’s a great movie, a classic piece of film that will still be recognised as such in the years to come. Tom Ford is such a strange director, I still haven’t figured him out, but I’m sure I will once he releases his third movie, whenever the hell that will be.
Refreshingly original while at the same time rather cliche, A Single Man does a great job of bringing genre conventions along for the ride and destroying them right before the end of the movie. Sometimes predictable, sometimes outlandish and stylistic, it’s the perfect blend of Hollywood cliche and unique auteur. It’s a rare blend, but it’s one that I really appreciate when done right. Ford has surprised me, and I think he’s surprised a lot of other people as well.