Colin Firth astounding in 'A Single Man'

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As a fashion designer for luxe European houses, Tom Ford might have been expected to create a thing of beauty with his first film, "A Single Man." What's unexpected is the movie's tactile quality and emotional power, which are somehow intertwined. The objects here - a poplin shirt, a hardwood desk, a small pistol - seem as real and expressive as the characters.

That's saying something, considering this film boasts some of the year's most astounding acting, primarily from Colin Firth. Known mainly as a dependable British cutie ("Pride and Prejudice," "Bridget Jones's Diary"), Firth changes course as George Falconer, a graying literature professor who, one day in 1962, learns that his longtime partner (Matthew Goode) has died.

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A daringly creative take on Christopher Isherwood's canonical novel, "A Single Man" has much to say about gay issues but more to say about, well, life. As George seeks solace from his long-ago lover Charlotte (Julianne Moore) or gazes at a blue-eyed student (Nicholas Hoult, thoroughly beguiling), he seems to long only for death.

That's a mistake, of course. Among the many resonant moments in this film there will come one, near the end, when the world once again seems worth touching.

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