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Many was the night I spent frustrated with the opposite sex. You could fill volumes with the sob stories borne of being burned by what had until then been a perfectly sweet girl. But being a strapping middle-class lad in modern America, I've much less reason to pity myself than the morose protagonist of Tom Ford's A Single Man. We have here a fellow on his last legs, spending what may be his last hours in this world in search of something to make his life been worth it. Yet while synopses like this get Academy members all hot and bothered, A Single Man transcends award-grabbing to become the delicate, artistic, and dramatically-sound character study it sets out to be.

A Single Man
We begin on November 30, 1962 -- the day on which George Falconer (Colin Firth) may or may not take his own life. A British professor at a Los Angeles college, George has for some months now grieved over the death of his partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). Left alone in a society that never accepted their relationship to begin with, George has decided to take his final bows and settle his affairs for good. But as he empties his savings, stocks up on bullets, and has one more hurrah with old confidante Charley (Julianne Moore), our man becomes increasingly hip to the beauty in a world he had for so long ignored. While his fate remains open, George still makes peace with his surroundings and even entertains the notion that he might not be ready to leave yet after all.

You could say that A Single Man bears a resemblance to American Beauty, the flick that everyone loved in 1999 but has since found new life as a critical punching bag. Instead of a hero stifled by modern suburbia, Firth's George is trapped in a "Mad Men"-ian realm of dapper depression, but the differences don't end there. For one, A Single Man lacks a ton of characters espousing their inner turmoils at the drop of a hat, since the focus is actually on what's not said more than anything. This knows better than a lot of recent melodramas how to find value in the everyday elements we take for granted or even come to despise. That erstwhile fashion designer Ford does this with flushes of colour that cut through the desaturated gloom may ring condescending, but I'll take these over another Monologue McGee any day.

A Single Man
A Single Man is a very meticulous picture, in both tone and assembly. Along with giving the production design crew a workout, the period minutae summarizes the lead character's very lifestyle. George puts great effort into conforming to a '60s everyman mold, his own home even polished to an OCD sheen. Everything establishes George's isolation to a tee, but room is left for humor, particularly when George proves to be too square to even kill himself properly in one scene. The role requires much to be said while little is spoken, but Firth is nothing if not a champion of subtlety. He internalizes George's emotions with the detatched ease of someone who's done so for a very long time, and that he's present for every scene makes your investment in his enlightenment all but a given. It's too bad that the supporting players are so spotty; Moore is alright, but Nicholas Hoult overdoes it a bit as a student enthralled by George.

A Single Man

Video


Introspective character dramas don't usually lend themselves to distinct imagery, but in A Single Man's case, visuals are vital to the story. Color creeps into George's world when he encounters something that touches his heart, and as iffy a device it seems, it's all executed very well. Never does the film end up looking like a Merchant-Ivory remake of Sin City, as Ford keeps the balance of insight and indulgence in check. Be it emphasizing instances like these or the drabness of George's '60sverse, A Single Man looks amazing, especially with a Blu-Ray transfer that does it all the justice it needs.

Audio


The usual Sony variety is curiously absent here. The disc only offers DTS-HD Master Audio English audio, along with accompanying captions for both the film and director Ford's commentary track. The audio is consistently smooth, although it got curiously louder during a couple of George's underwater dream sequences. Other than that, it's a flawless presentation that leaves the ears as satisfied as the eyes will be.

A Single Man

Extras


What A Single Man lacks in quantity of extras, it more than makes up for in their quality. "The Making of 'A Single Man" (16:07) is the token behind-the-scenes featurette, talking with Ford and his cast about their characters, the novel the film was based on, and all that jazz. You hear some interesting stories, but you also walk away with a better appreciation of how such an emotionally heavy story was turned into so well-balanced of a flick. This is also carried on into Ford's commentary track, during which he discusses his influences, shooting on a tight 21-day schedule, and weaving aspects of his own life into George's. He's a treat to listen to, and again, you really come to understand the passion with which the project was made. A handful of previews finish off the disc, as well as movieIQ and BD-Live content for anyone wishing to have their own little IMDB at their disposal.

A Single Man

Overall


With luck, A Single Man will push Colin Firth out of pseudo-obscurity and into parts that don't just require him to be "That British Guy." He's one of the most reliably solid actors working today (even in cow-pies like What a Girl Wants), and given the film's subject and story, he's a big reason why it doesn't come across as shameless Oscar whoring. You may not find much call to watch it multiple times, but once is all A Single Man needs to show that, like George's bland visage, there's more at work than what appears to be.
A Single Man


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