Based on the classic 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man charts a day in the life of George, a gay Englishman employed as a professor at a Los Angeles university. Faultlessly fastidious, George glides through his workdays to return to his life at home with his longtime male lover, in whose arms he tastefully and reservedly blooms. As A Single Man begins, George's meticulous life is thrown into brutal disarray, leaving him a bruised mess whose only goal is to survive another day. A Single Man explores one of these days, from the morning's fresh realization of loss to autopilot dealings with neighbors and colleagues to the type of oddly meaningful small talk with strangers such brutal life upheaval seems to foster. It's a small, quiet, contained thing, and in the hands of director Tom Ford and actor Colin Firth, it becomes one of the year's most ravishing films.
The unexpectedness of this cannot be overstated. Ford is a first-time film director and a well-known fashion designer, and while his visual style makes itself known in every carefully composed frame of his film, it's all in the service of capturing the messy human heart of the story, which Ford accomplishes with a stunningly assured lyricism. Bold moves abound: The film's color saturation increases and decreases in accordance with the narrator's emotional engagement, and major plot points are revealed through intricate bits of cinematic poetry. Anchoring everything is Firth, the titular single man and Ford's emotional avatar, who fills the screen with a performance of rare intelligence and depth. The stealthily stoic bastard had me bawling in the first five minutes, and I hope to bawl some more when Firth claims his Oscar for best actor.