After watching, and having a certain lukewarm reaction to, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, I thought that I’d take a look at his directorial debut, since many referenced it in their Nocturnal Animals reviews and since it has recently been made available on Netflix. The film takes place in 1960’s Los Angeles and follows English professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) who, following the recent death of his long-term partner Jim (Matthew Goode), tries to make sense of his life, contemplating suicide. He also strikes up a relationship with one of his students (Nicholas Hoult).
While I probably didn’t fully understand what message the film was attempting to convey, the story of A Single Man is relativity simple and it is clear that Tom Ford has put a lot of himself in the central character, crafting a film about things that are important to him and letting his own experiences and thoughts shine through. It is a simple tale about relationships, friendships and projecting a certain image of yourself to the rest of the world, repressing your true nature but it was good to see at least one fun scene as well, where Colin Firth and Julianne Moore dance, something that we certainly didn’t see in Nocturnal Animals!
BAFTA winning and Oscar nominated for his performance, Colin Firth takes centre stage and he is indeed wonderful. As you can expect, his is a dignified, confident performance and he interacts excellently with the rest of the cast, especially with Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult, who looks uncannily like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic! With Hoult in particular, there is great chemistry and the sexual attraction between the two characters is effectively conveyed to the audience. No cast member is wasted and they all perform very well.
As with Nocturnal Animals, this film is very well designed and everything looks clean and pristine (even when Colin Firth is told that “he looks awful”, he actually looks pretty good!). Ford’s attention to detail is commendable and, of course, the costume design is spot on, the impossibly perfect folded shirts and the immaculately polished shoes being of particular note. The 60’s Cold War atmosphere is effectively created and the scene that includes the classic Los Angeles sky at dusk looks beautiful.
There is also a clever use of colour and it changes at various points in the film: at the beginning, everything is noticeably grey, even Firth himself, but colour is introduced as he regains happiness and passion. We first start to see the colour changes as he takes a certain notice of Hoult’s character Kenny and in a subsequent scene where he sees two topless men playing tennis. It’s almost as if the film gets brighter as his heart beats faster and he regains a certain joie de vivre.
One of the best parts of Nocturnal Animals was the score, composed by Abel Korzeniowski, and I was really glad to see that he also did the music for A Single Man. The string heavy score for this film is yet again exemplary, full of passion, emotion and drama and it complements the film beautifully.
If I had to point out any flaws, I would say that the film tends to get a little pretentious at times as certain character dialogue doesn’t quite ring true and that Ford’s voice is slightly out of touch and perhaps too lofty.
Superbly acted, very well designed and with an exceptional score, Tom Ford delivers an assured, confident directorial debut.