A Single Man, Tom Ford's adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's 1964 novel about a day in the life of an expatriate English professor of literature (Colin Firth) living in Los Angeles and mourning the sudden death of his lover (Matthew Goode), is visually arresting and often mordantly funny in spite of its weighty premise and subject matter. Part of the credit for this singularity of tone has to go to Firth's gentle and generous performance as a man who's constantly battling his memories and desires as he tries to make it through the day.
The conflict between Firth's cool, aloof exterior and the roiling emotional undercurrents he's trying to suppress is effectively expressed through Ford's elliptical, stream-of-consciousness editing. Cinematographer Eduard Grau's shifting color palate, which varies in intensity as Firth either ignores or embraces the quotidian miracles that surround him, adds more texture and density to the precise early-'60s imagery. The color is washed-out when he's distracted, but it blooms frequently to embrace the sudden facts of sensuous existence — the black of a girl's patent-leather shoes, the tan skin of a tennis player, the green of an eye, the pink of a smoggy sunset.
A Single Man is an unusual fictional complement to Chris and Don: A Love Story, last year's moving documentary about Isherwood's long relationship with artist boyfriend Don Bachardy. Bachardy implicitly blesses this film with a brief cameo, and Mad Men's Jon Hamm adds still more period atmosphere as the voice on the telephone who bears bad news.