Upon first glance it would seem that A Single Man was another one of those Oscar films that no one saw or that it was a commercial failure. On the contrary, the film was made for a paltry $7 million dollars and made back over three times that when worldwide receipts are taken into account. Granted, that’s not a whole lot for a film to make nowadays, but considering how little exposure this film got it’s quite a remarkable feat. Of course the Oscar buzz did help it (even if Firth’s nomination was drowned out by Jeff Bridges ultimate and inevitable win) and the BAFTA win certainly helped it overseas, but the sad fact is many will likely pass this film on by simple because they either never heard of it or that the cover makes Firth look too much like that guy from Heroes which nearly turned me off as I don’t need any more reminders of that show.
A SINGLE MAN is based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood. Set in Los Angeles in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, it is the story of a British college professor (Colin Firth) who is struggling to find meaning to his life after the death of his long time partner. The story is a romantic tale of love interrupted, the isolation that is an inherent part of the human condition, and, ultimately, the importance of the seemingly smaller moments in life. 2009 Critics’ Choice Awards nominations include Colin Firth (Best Actor), Julianne Moore (Best Actress), Best Screenplay and Best Art Direction. 2010 Golden Globe nominations include Colin Firth (Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama), Julianne Moore (Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture) and Best Original Score – Motion Picture.
There is a very good chance that you will be immediately turned off by this film. I don’t mean because of the subject matter (although I’m sure that will ruffle a few feathers as well), but because of director Tom Ford’s directing style. This is his first outing as a director and it’s kind of obvious in a way because he kind of overuses the fancy visual effects or artsy pieces. It was fine in dream sequences, but it inexplicably shows up during the real life scenarios as well; in retrospect it was kind of an interesting way to show how much Firth’s character was soaking in the everyday elements he would soon be missing, but if you don’t realize that going in then it just seems like he’s slowing down mundane, everyday elements for absolutely no reason. It’s something that’s better on repeat viewings, but it’s almost enough to alienate you on the first go around.
Then there is the story itself. Either I was merely blinded by the heat wave and thus rendered unable to think or use any kind of observational skills of any kind or I’m just that oblivious, but the whole suicide angle of the story was completely lost on me until about part way through it. I was worried it was going to be another story about homosexuals in a less tolerant era, which, don’t get me wrong, is a suitable story element but it’s not enough to drive a film. Like sports movies that focus on downtrodden high schooler’s raising to their true potential I grow tired of simple stories that use race or sexual orientation as a crutch for the story. Thankfully the suicide element came into play shortly (wow that sounded morbid) and was able to steer the film away from that angle.
Considering how opposed I was to the film when it first started out, I was genuinely surprised by how strong of a finish it ended up having. There’s a lot to dwell and think back on with this film and I think that is probably the element of it that will stick with you more than anything. While there is plenty of pity and sympathy for Firth’s character, not only due to the secrecy he had to live with but also the absolutely gutting loss of his partner of sixteen years, there was also the appreciation of him in how he was trying to enjoy everything to the fullest for his last day. There was also a kind of respect he showed for those that would ultimately be dealing with his estate, with him leaving keys, wills, and notes out in the opening so as to ensure a speedy burial (he even put the suit out he wished to be buried in, complete with a note about the type of knot to use on the tie). It oddly got a bit comical as he tried to play out how he was going to kill himself, first with stacks of pillows to back him up, then a trip in the shower and finally an even more humorous bit with a sleeping bag.
Another neat element of the film was the flashbacks and the fact the film played out over a single day. All of the flashbacks dealt with those of Firth and Matthew Goode’s characters and gave a really clean and clear back story into their relationship. The single day play out was another thing I didn’t immediately pick up on either, so it really would probably pay to watch the film more than once in my case. Without a doubt the biggest surprise came at the end…which I will avoid spoiling as it is kind of a simultaneously depressing and cool twist of the story.
It’s odd that you can feel so uplifted during what is mostly a story about lost love and suicide, but this film somehow manages it. It’s definitely a Recommended outing, just be sure to stick with it because it can test your patience if you aren’t big into overly arty visual pieces.
Sony releases A Single Man in single disc Elite Blu-ray case without any fancy frills about it. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and…well, that’s it. No digital or PSP copies of the film, just the single Blu-ray disc and that’s it.
The film boasts a 1080p AVC encoded transfer that I can only call a bit squirrely. The films visual style is remarkable, as it should be considering the Mad Men costume and set designers worked on this film as well but the repeated color tone shifts and all that can be a bit jarring at times depending on your setup. I think it has more to do with just how clean and clear the transfer is because I read it wasn’t as noticeable of a change on film as it is here. Still either way you cut it the detail is strong and the picture clarity is superb and just what you’d expect from the studio that came up with the Blu-ray format in the first place.
The audio, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, is subtle in its execution. It’s a dialogue driven film to be sure but it does have a fair amount of ambient noise as well, particularly in outdoor or indoor areas such as the college campus or bank. I was surprised by how engulfing the soundtrack was considering how quiet it managed to be in the front channels, yet the music or whatever seemingly insignificant sound effect always made a positive influence in the surround channels.
Extras are satisfactory for such a film and include:
movieIQ™+sync and BD-Live connect you to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie!
Commentary with Producer/Director Tom Ford
The Making of A Single Man (16:07, 1080p)
The commentary is probably one of the more insightful I’ve heard in recent years as Ford freely talks about not only where the deviated from the original novel the film was based on but also where the cherry picked elements from his own life to implement into the film. It’s definitely a passion piece for Ford and it comes through in the visuals (as overly arty as they can be at times) and with this commentary track. The Making Of is a nice look into the movies 21-day shoot and is for some reason presented primarily in black and white. Features a nice bounty of interviews with Firth and Goode on set as well as some interesting behind the scenes shots as well.
Overall a disc that’s worth a Rental. Depending on how you enjoy the film it may be something you want to pick up and watch again, but play it safe with a rental as it may be a bit off-putting for some.
A Single Man is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.