The 1964 novel is about an English professor in Los Angeles who has lost his lover of sixteen years in an auto accident. Forward eight months and professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) is preparing to commit suicide. Everything about Falconer is elegant—his dress, his house, his car and even his gun as he prepares for his own death as he neatly lays out everything, leaving notes for his funeral, noting that his tie should be a Windsor knot. On an ordinary day, George delivers a lecture on minorities and fear, and is confronted by a beautiful student (About a Boy's Nicholas Hoult), a Spanish rent boy and the peculiar musings of a neighbors young daughter in a bank. And yet is taken back by memories of his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) through the most seemingly inconsequential of moments— a random encounter with a dog, for example.
His best friend Charlotte (Julianne Moore) is equally elegant and lonely as the two recall their momentary sexual relationship that she has never quite gotten over. She is torn between sympathy for him and regret about what might have been if he hadn’t turned into a “fucking poof”. Suffice to say we see the return of the beautiful student and George's life takes on a new clarity and calamity—all beautifully art directed and photographed and accompanied by a lush score by Abel Korzeniowski.
Certainly Tom Ford pays homage to directors Ang Lee and Todd Haynes, but it is Douglas Sirk who most comes to mind as the score and visuals seem to rise up in melodramatic fashion. Ford stays just shy of "fashion" delivering an emotional film that is completely homoerotic in both sound and silences. It is Colin Firth, who is already winning many film awards, that singularly holds the film together in a performance that is as complex as it is stylish. Firth moves through a series of emotions like a hand in water and for a film that takes place in 1962, his homosexuality is shockingly confidant. But that would be Christopher Isherwood after all. In a reminder of the inequality of that period, George is told he cannot attend the funeral of his dead partner, because it is "for family only." How we deal with grief is always an entirely private matter and indeed, the ending may be a little convenient, but the journey getting there is one beautiful ride.
It would be easy to dismiss Tom Ford as there is little evidence in his past triumphs to indicate that his directorial debut would be so accomplished. He was the creative director for Gucci from1994 to 2004. His ad campaigns have have been famous and provocative for pushing advertising to a new level of creativity in artistic expression and commercial impact. Leaving Gucci he created his own fashion house, Tom Ford and concentrated his efforts on menswear, beauty, eyewear, and both men and women's accessories. All highly successful. One would have easily thought his first film would be like a commercial, but that is not the case, at all. Yes, there are stylish, cinematic moments that hint at his past, but the sincerity and honesty that are revealed, due in great part to magnificent performances and a dazzling musical score, all reveal Tom Ford to be someone we did not really know.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary by Ford.