Star rating - 7/10
Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel, this first film for fashion designer Tom Ford features improbably beautiful people in LA around the time of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Colin Firth deserves his Oscar nomination for his poignant and nuanced portrayal of George Falconer, a college professor whose English reserve is not really helping him with his grieving process. His lover of 16 years, Jim, has been killed in a car accident 8 months earlier. And George is finding it increasingly futile to go through the motions of everyday life without him.
His experience reveals just how hidden and denied the experiences of gay men in the America of 1962 were– George is not even informed about Jim’s death while he was visiting them until the day after, and even then only by a family friend who feels he should be told, but who has the unenviable job of letting him know that the funeral service will just be for ‘family’. Even George’s best friend Charley, compellingly and beautifully played by Julianne Moore, wonders if he wishes he ever had a ‘real’ relationship.
Although her attitude can party be explained by her drunken state after they have shared an evening together, and her continuing obvious infatuation with George, long after their distant romance has firmly settled into a close friendship for him. But, fragile and unhappy though she is, their friendship is very touchingly portrayed.
The watchword of this film is detail, which should not surprise us really being the creation of one whose career to date has been very successfully built on attention to detail. As George, suicidal in his despair, lays out his own funeral clothes, he writes a note to make sure that his expensive silk tie is tied in a Windsor knot. Much of the action is shot in such close up that it does feel a bit like a very long advert. And the slow motion shots are a little distracting.
But some of the small details help to paint a vivid picture, such as everyday meetings with his neighbours, and a chance encounter with a beautiful young Spanish man. George’s relationship with his students is explored, and in particular with Kenny, who is clearly infatuated with George, and whose companionship helps to give George hope.
I did have a problem with the ending to the tale – not that I would give it away - but suffice to say it felt most improbable. Overall though this is a very watchable, if over manicured film, which shows off the clear brilliance of both Firth and Moore commendably. It will be interesting to see if Ford develops and matures as a more rounded film maker after this first valiant effort.