Big Jim Review: A Single Man

Some people are victims of bad timing. Peter O’Toole should be one of the most Oscar heavy actors out there, but throughout his career he kept running into the ridiculous. Of his 8 Oscar nominations he has lost to

1) Gregory Peck (To Kill A Mockingbird)

2) Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady)

3) Cliff Robertson (Charly)

4) John Wayne (True Grit)

5) Marlon Brando (The Godfather)

6) Robert De Niro (Raging Bull)

7) Ben Kingsley (Gandhi)

8) Forrest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Were it not for his bad luck at being put up against timeless, generation defining performances, sentimental favorites winning essentially “Lifetime Achievement Awards,” and films that just captured the spirit of the times he would be sitting on a mountain of little gold men.

I fear the same might be becoming true of Colin Firth.

Granted, he only has one nomination, but damn! If he can’t win for “A Single Man,” than no actor deserves an award for anything ever.

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Now, I have nothing against Jeff Bridges, in fact I quite like him. But… really? To be fair, I still haven’t watched “Crazy Heart,” but I know the score. Jeff is a popular guy who makes some good movies and this one was probably the only opportunity Hollywood would get to give him this award. But that is no excuse. It’s an award for a performance, and on those grounds the Oscars this past year should have had the following occur:

“The nominees for Best Actor in a Lead role are- Colin Firth for “A Single Man.” And the winner is- Colin Firth for ‘A Single Man.’”

This is an outstanding performance. I mean this is an OUTSTANDIGN performance. Colin is an amazing actor, this has never been in question, but in this film he reaches Day-Lewis levels of incredible.

I didn’t even feel like I was watching someone act, he just was this guy. He made you feel the loss, the empty feeling when you lose someone, the loneliness that exists when they are gone, the slow journey into despair and hope that is unmistakable to anyone who has gone through it. He made you feel like you were watching a friend go through something awful and all you can do is wish you could help but know that you really can’t.

The problem is that the rest of the movie isn’t that great. This is a stream of consciousness journey through one day with a man, Prof. George Falconer, who has recently lost his partner of 16 years. He is not just single in the fact that he is now without a lover, but he is completely alone and disconnected from everyone around him. Life is an isolated series of events that leave him feeling more like a spectator than an actual participant. He tries to reconnect with people but he can’t. You definitely feel his isolation.

This is a stream of consciousness film, and there aren’t many of them for a reason. You get a very solid, emotionally charged and affecting opening, but then it starts to feel rudderless. Not that that is inherently a bad thing, quite the contrary, it can be very powerful, it’s just that here it feels too scattershot.

First time writer/director Tom Ford writes himself a very big check to cash with this film and, sadly, doesn’t quite have the funds to cover it. There are too many times where it feels like he is trying to let the lighting and the art direction do the emotional work for him. There is no question as to what George is feeling and how we are supposed to feel about it. It is either gray and cold, or really, really orange and warm. It was an interesting device at first, but started to feel a bit overused quite quickly. I know what Ford was going for, but too many people looked plastic and fake and the contrast was just too much. Firth was already conveying the emotional weight and it felt like Ford really wanted to drive it home.

The events of the film kind of run together, this being the very nature of stream of consciousness, but what happened felt secondary. Firth was doing all the work, and where he went was just a function of his journey. I know character is supposed to drive the story, but there didn’t seem like there was much being driven.

Ultimately, this movie left me feeling almost puzzled. I felt for Falconer, I really did. Firth made him so accessible and vulnerable and real and raw that it’s almost impossible not to feel his loss. But the rest of the film left me wanting more. Perhaps the events worked better in the novel, but on screen they just felt lacking and a bit forced at times.

Firth makes this a very powerful movie, but in the end you end up wishing he had a better stage to work on.



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