I think Colin Firth has always been a more interesting actor the his successes (mostly in the Jane Austen/Bridget Jones ballpark) have allowed for. I can think of few who convey intelligence with more poignancy, as if he is just barely can contain his bitterness at all times. He deserved a defining role separate from Mr Darcy, and with A Single Man I think he found it. Its a tour de force performance in what otherwise can't be called more then an intriguing film. Director Tom Ford clearly worked very hard on his visual style and at times it can be breathtaking, and the film had some promise, with a very strong first forty minutes or so, but it doesn't quite keep up with the quality in its latter stages.
The film follows a day in the life of George Falconer (Firth) an English professor, stuck in a figurative paralysis of grief after the death of his long time partner Jim (Matthew Goode). Finding almost every movement and thought a struggle. I think in the first half-hour of the film, Firth has very little on screen dialogue, the film relying basically on voice-over and his reactionary silence to carry the film. And Firth is simply amazing in these scenes, communicating his huge sense of loss in every move he makes, doing so much by doing so little. The visuals of the film are most impressive here too, with Ford confidently displaying a clear an often astounding visual style. But the problem with a film being so suffocatingly stylized is that by a half hour of a similar thing, it has lost its impact to wow you yet the film doesn't redirect its focus to the story, instead bombarding you with more visuals, which in themselves seemed to get increasingly throwaway. It would have been nigh on a classic if Ford had allowed the second half of the movie to shift away from the camera department and onto Firth where it surely belonged. I think Ford did want to tell a character story and he did succeed in some ways, but its clear where his film-making priorities lie. On a more textual note, the movie took a couple of unwelcome diversions in its latter half which seemed to detract from the strength of the film. There was a particularly disposable scene with a male prostitute, while not bad on its own, just seemed to be there to hold up the narrative and it showed. Whilst I found Julianne Moore's lush to be a bit of an under-developed caricature. I love Moore, but I find myself a little disappointed by her here. Matthew Goode does good work as the messianic dead boyfriend, and is an actor that is more at home in this kind of thing then in say, Watchmen.
But all this is irrelevant and because of how good Firth is in it, it becomes something to see. If Ford can perhaps be less oppressive with his visual style, he is a director with some promise and this is a smart, impressively intelligent debut.