George Falconer is devastated. He's a 52-year-old, closeted, gay, English professor in 1962 mourning the loss of his partner of 16 years. A Single Man follows George (Colin Firth) on a day in which he is determined to change is pain-stricken life. On this day, George teaches students at his L.A. school about invisible minorities, mentors an attractive younger student (Nicholas Hoult), and meets up with his boozy best friend, Charly (Julianne Moore).
A Single Man is the most visually enthralling film of the year, and given the subject matter, it should be one of the most gut-wrenching. However, the beautiful imagery evokes an emotional detachment that works in the film's favor. During the course of the day, George is an auxiliary character in his life, going through the motions as a mere witness. With director Tom Ford's (the fashion designer's first foray into film-making) unique vision, A Single Man is a similar viewing experience. The audience is more a witness, rather than a participant, in the tragedy and triumph of George's life. That distinct separation makes the film, especially the ending, much more thought-provoking and satisfying.
Firth's performance is one for the ages. Regularly type-cast as a nice guy in films like Love, Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Mamma Mia!, he brings incredible depth to A Single Man. His every movement is a remarkable expression of George's all-consuming grief. Moore is equally superb. In only ten minutes on screen, she's altogether hilarious and heartbreaking. Had Mo'Nique not given such a tour-de-force performance in Precious, Moore would be receiving her first, and much-deserved, Oscar this February.
Between the stellar performances, the impeccable visuals, and the haunting score, A Single Man is one of the best films to come from 2009, and one that should never be invisible.