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Just so that we’re all on the same page – a Single Man is a masterpiece. It has everything a film needs to be good. The acting is sublime, the writing superb, everything comes together beautifully. What catapults it into the realm of greatness, however, is the ease with which Tom Ford embraces the visual possibilities of cinema.
For those of you who have somehow missed the brouhaha of the past few months, Tom Ford is a fashion icon, so it should come as no surprise that he has an inherent knack for design and visuals. What is so astounding is that A Single Man reads almost as a rulebook for how films should be shot and edited, with one notable exception – it is entirely original.
Here is the secret to Tom Ford’s exceptional piece of work – he follows all the rules. He does nothing you haven’t seen before – he just does it better. It is not drastically original to have saturated colours symbolize hope and happiness while paler greys symbolize loneliness and despair. Even switching between the two has been around for ages – perhaps the most famous, if not the first, example being “The Wizard of Oz”. What Tom Ford has done so well though, is find a way to flip between the two almost unnoticeably, just as one flits between moments of happiness and moments of disappointment without pausing for reflection between them.
The skill-sets required for this include (but are not limited to) editing, art direction, design, lighting, and, of course, cinematography. The effect of watching such a diverse orchestra come together in perfect visual harmony is nothing short of breathtaking. The examples of this are so numerous that I feel no qualms about sharing one with you.
There is a moment where the main character (Colin Firth’s Oscar-worthy turn as George) is in a parking lot in a state of quiet loneliness and despair. He turns to see a woman about to pull away. She has a dog on the seat next to her and the window down, and as it happens George loves this particular breed. They make polite small talk and he pets the dog before leaning in to sniff it. As he inhales gently, colour creeps in to his grey world. Time slows almost imperceptibly as he savours this simple joy. The mundane sounds of the world around him dim, and all that matters is that right now at this moment, he is happy. The most exceptional thing of all is it all happens in perfect timing with his breath. Slowly as he starts breathing in, then quicker, stronger as his breath gets deeper, before slowing down again as he prepares to exhale.
This all takes less than thirty seconds of the film’s run time. The best part is it’s not a stand-out scene in the film: the WHOLE THING is just as well made.
In short, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Whether you are interested in art direction, cinematography, design for design’s sake, or even just plain like a good film, you will enjoy this. I have not enjoyed a film this much in years, and the only criticism I can think to make is that you will be disappointed by whatever you happen to watch next.