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Film: A Single Man * * *

(drama. Starring Colin Firth, Matthew Goode, Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Kortajarena. Directed by Tom Ford. cert 15A)

At a time when even experienced film-makers with a good track record can struggle to get their movies made and, arguably even harder, have them properly distributed to stand a chance of finding an audience, the case of Tom Ford's A Single Man is a strange one. Whereas recent projects by the likes of Jim Sheridan, Terry Gilliam and even Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker were fraught with struggle, not least in terms of finance, it seems that Ford simply sailed his way through what are usually seriously troubled waters.

Even harder to comprehend is that A Single Man isn't some high-concept comedy or romantic drama but is rather an adaptation of one of the lesser-known works by Christopher Isherwood with a first-time director behind the camera, someone who hadn't even come through the usual pre-Hollywood route of music videos or high-gloss commercials. Ah, but while cinemagoers might not have a breeze who Tom Ford is, he's one of the biggest names in a parallel universe: that of fashion, where he's the man responsible for completely reviving the fortunes of Gucci.

Thus, armed with a contacts book from Mount Olympus, Ford has been able to put this pet project together -- and do so with some aplomb, it must be said -- in the process drawing a performance from Colin Firth which has seen the actor receive his first Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Set in 1962, A Single Man tells the story of George Falconer (Firth), an Englishman teaching literature at a California college and mourning the death of his long-term partner Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car crash. From early on it becomes clear that beneath that studied English reserve George is cracking up and possibly even planning to kill himself. It's here that Firth really comes into his own, maintaining composure but offering tiny clues in the minutest of eye movements and gestures that all is not well beneath the surface.

His scenes with fellow ex-pat Charley (Julianne Moore) offer some light relief, but when he's faced with advances from a James Dean lookalike hustler (Jon Kortajarena), a scene which is completely at odds visually with the rest of the film, and a young student, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), we can see that Falconer is a man still grieving and not exactly sure where he wants to go.

Alas, that latter point also applies to the film as a whole. A Single Man is certainly stylish and doesn't feel too much like a debut, except perhaps in the way Ford changes the visual tone rather too often as if not having the total courage of his convictions, but after the first half-hour the storyline doesn't progress sufficiently to retain the interest.

Firth is the heart and soul of the movie and his playing, especially opposite Moore, is certainly worthy of high praise, although whether he should have got the nomination ahead of Vincent Cassel's powerhouse performance in the Mesrine movies is a debate for the high stool, but the basic story just feels too flimsy and mannered to fully recommend.