Dec 1, 2009

REVIEW: Colin Firth's bottom looks beautiful by moonlight

Colin Firth fans are a patient lot, by and large, willing to bide their time without complaint while they wait for a new movie starring their man. They will be amply rewarded by A Single Man, which is the Colin Firth movie to end all Colin Firth movies. God but he's good in this film. He's in fantastic shape, tan, his hair thick and lustruous, his suits beautifully tailored, his bum beautiful in the moonlight. (Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write.) He plays George Falconer, an English college professor working in California in the early sixties; by day he wears professorial spectacles and gives lectures on Kafka; by night, unable to get over the death of his lover (Matthew Goode), he calmly contemplates suicide. That's the film, which covers just one day in his life, maybe his last. Firth gets one knockout scene right at the beginning of the film — a mixture of crisp manners and silent agony — although I never quite bought that he was on the brink of killing himself. Firth can't help himself, I guess: he's such a genial actor, twinkling with everyone he comes across. When we get there, the scene is played for laughs, with George unable to get the combination of pillow, bed and gun to his exact liking. It would be funnier if the entire movie weren't like that: there's not a hair out of place in the whole thing. I get what Ford is trying to do: lay out this guy's last day as neatly as he lays out his shirts on the bed, American-Gigolo fashion. But his direction is so meticulously perfect that it's hard to tell where pathology ends and art direction begins: everything in this movie is laid out just so, every frame a masterclass in composition. One of the flashbacks is in black and white, for no discernible reason, like the slo-mo that comes out of nowhere to assail Firth at random moments: driving to work, visiting the bank. And while Firth talks movingly about the plight of invisible minorities, the gay student he almost spends the night with is rather too flagrently out (angora sweater, lipstick). Really? In 1962? At times like this you wonder whether Ford's commitment to period goes far beyond an intense interest in great jacket lapels. I longed for some mess: real mess, not the art-directed throw-cushion kind. Firth cracks open — his director clams up.

A Single Man (2009)
Directed by Tom Ford
W. Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode
Written by Tom Ford & David Scearce
From a novel by Christopher Isherwood


  1. I'm not an expert on suicide, but I do believe that sometimes people get oddly less depressed when they've made the decision. The decision's been made, there's a new sense of purpose and they go about the necessary business to prepare for the end. They may seem more upbeat than they usually are.

    As for the overcomposition, I thought there's a nice use of degrees of formality in the frames, along with levels of saturation of color and rhythms both within shots and between shots. I had the impression that, the more withdrawn George was, the greater stylization and slowness; the more connected to the world, the more naturalistic.

    I think the one flashback is black & white since George has that black & white photo of, IIRC, the same day. So he's come to think of it as being in black & white, in contrast to other flashbacks where he's remembering the events solely by memory.

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  3. I take your point about suicide. I still found it over styled though. Thanks for paying attention.

  4. Tom,
    As one of those patient Colin Firth fans, let me say how wonderful it is to have him receive all the kudos he so truly deserves! He is one of the greatest, most underrated actors of our time. Bring on the award season!!