A Single Man
is based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood, which is written as the internal monologue of a man who has made up his mind to commit suicide. If you know this, the first few minutes of the movie are a bit unnerving. Colin Firth, playing the title character -- a handsome, low-key college professor named George -- narrates the opening scenes by essentially reading lengthy passages from the book: the laziest possible approach to a challenging adaptation. There's little that does more to try my patience than this sort of extended "literary" voiceover. Not to be melodramatic, but in its worst incarnations, it's an affront to cinema. At the very least it misses the point.

Within a few minutes, though, first-time director Tom Ford finds his groove. Ford is a fashion designer by trade, a fact to which early reviewers have done their darnedest to ascribe significance -- a bit of a contrived exercise, it seems to me, since one certainly could not guess his prior occupation just from watching the film. In fact, despite the shaky start, Ford finds an elegant, striking way of bringing this material to the screen. Much of A Single Man is an elegiac tone poem, rendered haunting by Ford's beautifully composed images, and propelled by a gorgeous, somewhat Philip Glass-like musical score by little-known Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. If you want a reference point, I'd name The Hours, which may send some readers screaming from the room -- but Ford's film has the same sort of nimble flow and sorrowful beauty.