Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Video review: "A Single Man"

Great directors are made, not born. But every now and then someone takes up the chair late in life, and proves a natural.

Tom Ford is one of those.

Nearly 50, he is best known as a fashion designer, for Gucci and then his own line. Before he directed "A Single Man," Ford was probably best known for a photo shoot on the cover of "Vanity Fair" of a nude Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley. Rachel McAdams was supposed to complete a trio, but got cold feet at dropping trou, and Ford substituted himself (fully clothed) into the picture.

An affinity for design is rarely limited to a single discipline, as Ford shows. He proves an adept novice at filling the cinematic frame with lush details, and photographing stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore with Golden Age Hollywood glamour -- not to mention eliciting some top-notch performances from his cast.

Firth deservingly earned an Oscar nomination for his riveting performance as George, a closeted English professor in early 1960s California. Shattered at the death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of 16 years, George has decided to commit suicide. The film follows him over the course of his last day, at the end of which he intends to blow his brains out.

Julianne Moore plays Charley, a fellow British expatriate and onetime lover, with whom George enjoys a sumptuous last meal. Charley offhandedly dismisses George's love for Jim as illegitimate, and we sense that the two old friends share affection but not understanding.

George is also tempted by recurring run-ins with a former student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who slyly attempts to seduce his teacher. The screenplay, by Ford and David Scearce, is based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, one of the first serious literary depictions of homosexuality.

"A Single Man" is a bitter, but delicious cinematic dish.

Extra features are the same for DVD and Blu-ray versions, are modest in scope but hefty in substance.

Ford provides a feature-length commentary track, and there is also a making-of featurette that touches on various aspects of production.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars

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