A Single Man is a film that thrives on Colin Firth’s performance. He is the titular character and thus the fulcrum upon which the entire film rests. At many times he is alone, more often than not though he is one on one with another scene partner and thus the cast must be exemplary to match him. Firth’s performance is not one of tremendous fireworks but one where we are allowed to get the occasional glimpse beneath the surface. It’s brilliant and true and the finest performance of the year, and was honored as such in Venice.
Accompanying Firth in a few of his more pivotal scenes is Julianne Moore. Moore doesn’t have a lot of screen time in this film but she uses it to her full advantage playing her character remarkably and in so little time breathing life into Charley. In a fascinating bit of turnabout she put on a British accent and is hardly distinguishable from Firth in authenticity.
Conversely Nicholas Hoult, who is British, plays an American and much more convincingly so than when he co-starred in The Weather Man. His scene opposite Firth in the bar was quite memorable and he was perhaps the perfect casting choice as the young man who gives our protagonist a glimmer of hope.
The cast of the film overall is exceptional and because all the scenes were of an intimate nature, in terms of emotion if not subject matter, all actors in parts large and small had to connect and play up to Colin Firth and they did so tremendously.
The edit of this film is likely to go unrecognized and thus we shall call attention to it here. Both aesthetically and technically it is a job very well done. With ease it manipulates our perception of reality on one occasion but more often than not it combines with the cinematography to give the perfect launching point for a flashback. One of the flashbacks being shot in black and white was also a very welcome touch.
The greatest tool at the disposal of the cineast is the ability for him to manipulate time. This film manipulates time brilliantly as we see virtually the entire story of this man’s adult life unfold itself over the course of a day. So much is learned so simply and quickly.
Having all of the events take place over the course of one day is also a great benefit to the film as it lends immediacy and urgency to even the most mundane of actions. As the day starts we think we see how it will end and makes every moment have that much more surpassing beauty because of it.
This is a film which is a subtle tragedy. In as much as the audience experiences the tragedy of events much more so than the characters involved. The film also leaves you wanting more and leaves you wondering what happened to characters after it faded to black for the last time.