Friday, December 11, 2009
By Harry Forbes
Colin Firth gives one of his all-time finest performances in this highly stylized version of Christopher Isherwood’s novel, which has been freely adapted by director Tom Ford (yes, the fashion designer) in a striking directorial debut.
Set in 1962 Los Angeles – and period trappings (the cars, the hairdos) are very well executed – Firth plays a British English professor George who is still grieving over the death of Jim (Matthew Goode), his partner of 16 years, killed in a car crash en route to a family gathering some time before. We see how George was coldly excluded from the funeral when Jim’s brother called to break the devastating news.
The film charts George going through the course of a day. In a Cold War atmosphere of the period, George comes close to coming out of the closet when, at school, he veers off-course from an Aldous Huxley lecture to a rambling discourse on societal fears about everything from nuclear war, blacks, growing old, bad breath, and Elvis Presley. But he stops just short of adding sexual orientation to that litany.
After class, he’s approached by flirtatious student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) who senses in George a need for connection. Later, outside a liquor store, George encounters a sweet-natured hustler (Joe Kortajarena), a Spaniard with a James Dean haircut, but George makes clear he’s not interested in sex. That evening, he has dinner with fellow British ex-patriot Charlotte (Julianne Moore) with whom he had once been romantically involved. It develops that underneath the cool exterior, George is contemplating suicide, though his elaborate preparations have a borderline comical edge. Will he or won’t he?
There’s an extended flashback of George’s first meeting with Jim in his navy whites in a bar in 1946.
All the performances are fine, but Ford’s focus is squarely on Firth who effortlessly conveys George’s pain, loneliness and frustration. The versatile Moore is right on target as a mod 1960s party gal with an authentic English accent to boot.
Ford and co-writer David Scearce have taken some liberties with the novel, apparently adding the suicide theme and softening Moore's character. But the end result – a moving study of love and loss, with its protagonist learning to value the little things in life he may have previously taken for granted – is extremely effective.
Ford shows a designer’s eye for visual detail, if he sometimes overdoes the enormous close-ups of eyes and lips, and recurring visual motifs, like two bodies swimming in water, scenes from Jim’s car crash and so on, some of this in slow motion.
Abel Korzeniowski (with additional music by Shigeru Umebayashi) has provided a churning musical score, very old-time Hollywood, which reflects George’s inner turmoil.
(Rated R by the MPAA for some disturbing images and nudity/sexual content.) Print this post