George (Colin Firth) is a middle-aged Englishman living in 1960s California and teaching English at college. He dreams about an over-turned car in the snow with a dead man lying beside it. He goes to the man and kisses him on the lips. He awakes and we learn through a reminisced phone call that his long-term lover Jim (Matthew Goode) died months previously in a car accident. His family didn't want George to attend the funeral. This is to be George's last day. An impeccably styled man, he gets changed and leaves his dark-wood and glass house.
A Single Man marks designer Tom Ford's début as a director. Best known as a fashion designer, he started out in architecture and had a small career acting in commercials, before turning to fashion after a Parisian internship at Chloe. As you would expect, there is conscious attention to clothing, interiors, George's Mercedes 220S and his 1949 John Lautner designed home. The cinematography is fine but not out-standing and the set design will be recognisable to 'Mad Men' tv series fans.
The film is an adaptation of a Christopher Isherwood story and centres on George essentially preparing for his suicide later that evening. The events of the day become more poignant as he realises that they will be his last. His English lecture turns into a personal speech about life, which attracts a young student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). Kenny seems to have more than just a crush on George. After buying bullets for a gun and encountering a male prostitute which comes to nothing, George starts to put his final moments in order. He sets out a number of letters on a desk including instructions on what suit he is to be buried in (tie must be a Windsor double knot).
After dinner with an old female ex-pat friend and lover Charley (Julianne Moore), he goes to a bar where he met Jim and we see a flashback of the time. Kenny turns up again and after skinny dipping in the sea, both go back to George's house to drink. Perhaps Kenny can offer salvation for George one way or another.
The film is a joy to watch in that it is a complete story with enough interest and style to carry you to the neatly executed end, which is also what makes it irritating. Speaking of irritating, Kenny just comes across as slimy and clinging. There is a constant unspoken tension when both characters are together, where you're waiting for something physical that never transpires. Colin Firth seemed an odd casting choice, but is absolutely spot on. I can't say that I thought the same of Nicholas Hoult.
Ford financed the $7M film himself and has seen very just reward for it. It'll be interesting to see what's next as he formed his Fade To Black production company in 2005 with this, his only production. It appears that he can afford to take his time and create personal, original work, which you would expect from any great designer.