Certainly not Oscar-winner “Brokeback Mountain,” tinseltown’s first major take on homosexuality. “Milk” is an exception of sorts, with Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk so exuberant in his gayness that it leads to his political assassination.
Now, comes “A Single Man.” Like “Brokeback,” it promotes deep-felt performances addressing homosexual heartbreak. Central is the acting of Colin Firth. He has played gay before (“Mama Mia!”), but never like this.
Here, he is California college literature professor George Falconer, reeling from the recent car-accident death of his longtime companion, Jim (Matthew Goode). The entire film takes place over the course of one day, but moving from one grief-stricken moment to the next, each seems to take an eternity.
Helmed by first-time movie director and former Gucci fashion master Tom Ford, “A Single Man” is based on the signature 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel. The late openly gay British-born author is responsible for the story, “Sally Bowles,” which ultimately became the musical, “Cabaret.”
The “Single Man” film starts with slow-motion shots of George floating naked underwater, then walking down an icy road where he sees Jim and his dog dead by blood and a busted car. George kisses his partner’s cold lips and wakes up with a jolt.
Thus begins his last day. It’s 1962 and news of the Cuban Missile crisis crackles on the radio. We see George is an immaculate dresser and a competent, though unenthused educator. However, one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), takes a shine to him. A young Tom Cruise look-alike, naïve Kenny pursues him, in search of answers to unknown adolescent questions.
George moves through his day in a daze, buys bullets for his pistol and has a final fling with a former pre-gay lover, Charley (Julianne Moore), also a British expatriate. George also has an undeveloped moment with a James Deanesque hustler, Carlos (Jon Kortajarena) in front of a huge poster of a wide-eyed Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
It should be noted that much of the movie is black and white, changing to color when certain key characters, like Kenny or Charley or Carlos, appear.
There’s no question that Gucci’s first-time film director has style.
But the movie belongs to Firth. He often shows a full range of feelings in a single prolonged close-up. Though dignified and self-restrained, George can’t hold back his tsunami of sadness. Firth manages his emotions masterfully.