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A Single Man

(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: R — for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content
  • Director: Tom Ford   Cast: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin, Nicholas Hoult
  • Running Time: 99 minutes
  • Reader Rating: Write a Review




Tom Ford, Andrew Miano, Robert Salerno, Chris Weitz


The Weinstein Company

Release Date

Dec 11, 2009

Release Notes


Official Website


One of the worst pieces of casting in cinema history was when Milos Forman gave Colin Firth his big break as the title character in Valmont, an aristocrat who treated seduction with the steely logic of a military commander and could slip into any role required by the current object of his attention. That’s not Firth. In his best parts, he is too ill at ease to lie—he radiates an integrity born of discomfort. Embarrassed at revealing too much, he’s apt to retreat into a prickly formality, which made him the definitive Darcy not once (in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice), but twice (as Darcy’s spiritual heir in Bridget Jones’s Diary). In A Single Man, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Firth goes deeper into his emotional rabbit hole and is even more expressive. He plays George, an aging gay professor whose lover of sixteen years has been killed and who is unable—this is 1962, when there’s little tolerance for homosexuality—to reconcile his private and public selves. George is forbidden to grieve openly, so his face remains tight. Yet the rigidity of his head, the way he turns to acknowledge others a beat too late, the way he moves as if underwater, suggest momentous forces below the surface. Fear of an unmasking makes every word or gesture seem false—not to us, but to George, who looks on himself with disgust, appalled at his cowardice. Narrating from inside his head, with a minimum of motion, Firth gives the performance of the year.

The movie itself is a good try, but it’s not on Firth’s level. The fashion designer Tom Ford directed from a script he wrote with David Scearce, and Ford doesn’t seem to trust his new medium’s dynamism. He drains the color from his protagonist’s stricken present and intensifies it for flashbacks and rare moments of connection. He tries to create tension between the pristine early-sixties surfaces and George’s convulsive inner world. But many of the images feel overplanned, congealed. George’s house is far too opulent for a man on his salary, and the pinkish skies and slow-motion exhalations of tobacco smoke don’t have much to do with George’s point of view. Isherwood made George and his dead lover, Jim, roughly the same age, but Ford has cast Matthew Goode (seen in flashbacks), who looks a quarter-century younger and would barely have hit puberty when the couple came together. As George’s lone confidante, an alcoholic divorcée called Charley, Julianne Moore affects another of her self-conscious English accents, and Ford doesn’t know enough to protect her from looking more affected than her character. Given the awkward staging, A Single Man might make you long, perversely, for George to stay single—anything to watch Firth stare into the mirror, searching for the self behind his eye.

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