My then roommate and movie-watching buddy R had been dying to see A Single Man, Tom Ford's directorial debut. The waiting list at the Fine Arts Library was pretty long, but she eventually got it and we watched it that very night. It left an impression.
I've never read the Christopher Isherwood novel, but I enjoyed the movie. The movie's strength is not the story, but the images it uses to tell that story. Tom Ford's use of color and framing is very striking.
Following the death of his partner (Matthew Goode), George (Colin Firth) intends to commit suicide. The whole movie is muted by his grief, few things truly engaging his senses. Firth does a wonderful job of portraying the character's emotional turmoil, hidden behind a strong front, and Ford's direction backs up his feeling.
The other actors aren't given as much to do, but they're delightfully ambiguous. Their motives and feelings aren't entirely clear to George or the viewer. Julianne Moore plays Charley, George's best friend and one of the few people he wants to see on his last day. The ridiculously gorgeous Nicholas Hoult plays Kenny, a student of George's who basically stalks him. (Whenever I see About a Boy, I am amazed how goofy he looked as a kid.)
A Single Man is very stylized and thus not for everybody. It is not a warm film. It has a very cold, mannered surface. But it works because of the core of vulnerability that Firth embodies. George's weakness is not easily seen, but it's very affecting.
There's also a memorable moment of black comedy towards the end of A Single Man, as George tries to stage his suicide perfectly. No matter how much he fusses, he can't seem to find a neat and dignified way to shoot himself. It's a terrible thing to laugh at, but it's a perfect funny and sad scene.