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Details indeed exude a holiness in Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’, and though ‘g-o-d’ his/herself may not, in fact, be therein, it certainly seems as if it’s worth a look. Colin Firth, the namesake ‘Man’, seems to think so, as his life teeters close to a thoroughly thought out rash-decision. It’s the overwhelming abundance of details that seem to even appropriate his plan: the loaf of bread that isn’t taken out; the neighbors’ children and their direct affronts; his curriculum at the university—Huxley’s ‘After Many Summers Dies the Swan’, natch; cues of his lost love found everywhere from tennis-players’-chests to back-seat-pooches; all align to compose the near-perfect design for his fatal itinerary. Ford, behind the lens, then becomes his natural extension, with a further fussiness that sees Firth’s ante but raises it with the magic of post-production. Color saturation fades in and out over the course of a shot; time is slowed, sped-up, cut-out, all following the sensitivities of Firth; details acting as rationalizing means to Firth’s intended ends.
But then something happens, and with a subtle pivot these details begin to blossom into their own, uncontrollable presences, they move from misc en scene to something of substance-from feathered devices in BOTH Firth and Ford’s world to something much closer to self-sustaining characters. The logic that dictates them becomes their own, off-camera even.
Julianne Moore marks the turning of this tide. She is introduced much earlier in the film as another Firth-fate-fitting detail: she calls, nags, is a discomposed mess-the Ultimate sin in Ford’s world. In short, she doesn’t even quite poses a 2nd dimension, never mind a 3rd. So there she is, hosting Firth to a ‘supper’ at her house, still within the envelope that Firth still imagines her in-though she is doing far better by Ford’s fashionable standards now… a fashionable foretelling. And then low-and-behold her depth blossoms: she laughs a deep, poignantly-miserable laugh, she’s dancing and successfully convincing Firth to do the same; and most-importantly she’s lashing back at Firth: fulfilling his constrained idea of her, and then shattering it. She becomes more than what Firth had planned for, more than his perception of her, she becomes herself in front of ALL of us, and Firth has no choice but to take it all in.
This revelation soon leads to another, more impactful plot-wise, and though I enjoyed its development much less, its importance in following the shift that Moore started is exponential. As a first-time-filmmaker né FORMER fashion-visionary the excessive aesthetics of the first two-thirds of the film are understandable if… not all the way tolerable. But as Ford loosens his grip in that last act, his transition to director grows into something quite impressive. He lets his actors act, he lets the scenes breathe, and in doing so, he lets the details disappear. They do not vanish though, but are only absorbed by the film and its players; at last uniting the 2 who seemed doomed to be jus 1 for too much of the beginning.
I’d be lying if I said that this early unbalanced-ness didn’t add to the satisfaction of its resolution later, despite an ending that I thought was unnecessary. ‘A Single Man’ plays as a symphony with far-too-thorough of an overture: with each instrument getting introduced excessively; and yet, when they ALL finally play together in that last movement, the piece itself is better far better for it. Firth’s surrender and acceptance of a world outside of his design, his details is Ford’s transition into a filmmaker in total, and I’d like to be yet another single person to welcome him.
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