In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “One of the most confident, rich and well received directorial debuts ever.”
“Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.”
A first time director making a great movie is nothing new. Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, the Coen Brothers made Blood Simple, and Quentin Tarantino made Reservoir Dogs. But there’s still a plausible lead up to these debuts. Welles was a celebrated theater director, the Coens had to start with something small, independent and low budget, Tarantino had already sold a screenplay or two. When I see that a first time director is already someone rich and famous in one field, and has financed their cinematic debut themselves, I can’t help but expect something really amateur and indulgent. Kind of like when some rich lawyer thought he was the guy to make an Easy Rider sequel. In 2008, Tom Ford was a rich and successful fashion designer. In 2009, he made one of the most confident, rich and well received directorial debuts ever, with A Single Man.
George (Colin Firth) wakes from a nightmare where he comes across the body of his lover (Matthew Goode as Jim) after a terrible car accident. When he wakes, it’s only to the horror of remembering that while he may not have been there to whiteness it, Jim’s death some months earlier was most definitely real. Depressed and lonely, George decides that this is the day he will kill himself.
Throughout the course of 24 hours, George prepares for his suicide, while flashing back to his 16 years with Jim. In the present, he commiserates with old friend Charley (Julianne Moore) who has her own issues with loneliness and depression. He also has a brief, but very important encounter with a student (Nicholas Hoult as Kenny) from the college where he teaches. The events of that single day trigger the memories that fill out George’s past and current situation as he struggles to redefine himself now that his biggest reason for living happily is gone.
OK, so my intro about Tom Ford’s work here might have seemed a little hyperbolic, but I stand by it. I remember when A Single Man came out, it won BAFTAs, it was nominated for Oscars and it was the epitome of prestige film making. Seeing it half a dozen years after the fact, all of that is totally justified. Obviously as a fashion designer, Ford has a good eye, and the late 60s setting means the fashions look great. But the look, tone and feel of this movie go way beyond costumes. The camera movements are just as lush and flowing. And he manages to blend dreams and reality in a fluid way that would usually seem obvious or on the nose.
I had no idea what A Single Man was about, I had no idea what kind of film maker Tom Ford was. If anything, all the praise on release had me a little skeptical. Because A Single Man isn’t a movie that really gets talked about much now. And that kind of awards attention on release, before quickly being forgotten, is usually a sign of the worst kind of Oscar bait. But A Single Man really is first rate film making, top to bottom. The only downside is, Tom Ford is yet to make a follow up.