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Bold Fashioned

Substance triumphs over style in Tom Ford's “A Single Man.”

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The first film by fashion industry icon Tom Ford unfolds much as the protagonist's potential savior appears: unexpectedly, and with an abiding sympathy that reaches out to its audience as only art can do.

The movie follows George Falconer (Colin Firth), a sharply-dressed but disoriented Los Angeles English professor reeling from the death of his longtime companion, Jim (Matthew Goode). George is a lost soul, preparing between the normal routines of his day to kill himself before bedtime. 

George's only real friend is Charley (Julianne Moore), an acquaintance from his London days, herself a divorcAce adrift in her overly-decorated but lifeless home. In one of the movie's best scenes, the two have a dinner party, great friends trying to ignore what they lack and what they can't give each other. Charley bemoans her loneliness as much as George walls himself up in his grief, but the two are powerless to do anything about it and George doesn't feel like complaining anymore. The way Ford frames his departure looks as though he is sealing Charley in as much as letting himself out. All hope appears lost within this single frame.

Adapted from a 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, Ford's film (risking overreach, he co-wrote, produced and directed) combines a fine cast with an excellent script that is both concise and overflowing with expressive images. The movie's use of color is particularly noteworthy, blushing and draining with George's unstable emotions. But Ford's stylistic flourishes never get in the way of his story's persuasive implications about providence and friendship, at least not as you might have expected from the former provocateur of Gucci fragrances.

Many art-house style movies of this sort, elbowing each other for a weekend or two during Oscar season, contain semblances of the winning elements in “A Single Man,” but Ford's film has a genuine spirit, as commendable for its honest sentiment as its distinctive cinematic qualities. George's inspired class lecture midway through the film, spoken out of personal desperation but imbued with honest emotion, feels like the movie in miniature: It's the inspiration for George's chance at salvation just as the movie is something similar for those open to its messages. (R) 99 min. HHHHH

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