Colin Firth is an intensely likable actor, but in every movie I've ever seen him in he is always…Colin Firth: witty, diffident, with that resignation hanging over his every grin and grimace. In A Single Man, though, I felt as if I were seeing him for the first time. As George Falconer, a 52-year-old homosexual English professor from London who teaches college in L.A. (the year is 1962), he has a different look and vibe, with mildly blondish straight hair and horn-rims that give him the aura of a bookish Roger Moore.
George is very much in the closet in 1962, there is barely such a thing as out of the closet and he's also in mourning over the death, in a car crash, of Jim (Matthew Goode), the younger man he lived with, quite happily, for 16 years. To George, Jim is irreplaceable: his one and only love. And all the beauty of the world is now just a reminder of what he's lost. A Single Man is suffused with beauty it's a movie conceived in a swoon. It's based on a 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, who wrote tales of liberated love in a pre-liberated era, and as we watch, something richly emotional and ironic happens: Since the film is set in a time when a man like George had to ''pass,'' almost invisibly, through his life, all of his romantic feelings are forced to flower, exclusively and luxuriously, inside him.
This is the first movie directed by Tom Ford, the former fashion designer, and he proves a born filmmaker with a rapturous eye. A Single Man takes place over one long day in which George teaches his classes, commiserates with his lonely lush of a best friend (a marvelous Julianne Moore), gets drawn to the gaze of an adoring student (Nicholas Hoult), and makes plans for the suicide he intends to commit that night. Firth plays him as a man of his time who is also mournfully ahead of his time. He's addicted to his own broken heart. A Single Man may break yours as well. A-