Set in 1962 the film spans a pivotal day in the life of George Falconer, an English professor in LA. Through flashback we learn of his partner's tragic and sudden death in an auto accident. He's clearly heartbroken and the fact that he can't share his feelings with anyone clearly is not helping things. How he'll deal with the loss seems to become a study with how he lived his life to date. Even though he's focused on the day ending with suicide it's a surprisingly positive - or at least not utterly depressing story. Given the constraints of the film's structure I felt the view of George's life was surprisingly rounded. Both the visuals, the dialog, and the unspoken body language of the actors give an impressive sense of an era and environment where his homosexuality was frowned upon (to put it mildly) but also understood to exist. There are some potentially positive influence's in George's life and they add the 'will he go through with it before he recognizes them' tension that keeps you involved in the film vs. just resigned to the outcome. Though what the outcome is I refuse to say.
Colin Firth owns this movie - his performance carries the film and makes it work throughout. The academy award talk is much deserved and I do feel he should be nominated for the performance. An example - a lesser film would have the character just telling us that dressing as the official George in the morning is similar to putting on a costume. Firth does that early on in voice over. Only late in the film did I realize we're getting to see the real unguarded George as he lets his hair down with longtime friend Julianne Moore truly showing the reality of how deeply he's suppressing parts of his personality. It's the sort of performance that doesn't call attention to these changes but your brain recognizes them naturally. I've never disliked Firth's performances - but this role gives him a chance to act that I hadn't really made not of previously.
The visuals are great in what I suspect is a Mad Men sorta way (yes, I keep being told I should watch but I don't. When everyone who tells me it's great catches up on The Wire then I'll capitulate). And all the supporting roles are well done. But it's Colin's performance that makes it completely watchable and makes even the cynical viewer (OK, at least me) care whether he ends the day the way he starts off intending to. I wasn't 100% satisfied with the ending - though I can see why they'd want to go the way they did. But I liked it far more than I expected as a piece of film-making. Well done - and a great start to SIFF's Award Buzz - benefit screenings series.
Marketing Notes: There's some interesting discussions on the web around the marketing of this film - specifically whether there's an attempt to "de-gay" the movie around Oscar time in part by highlighting the relationship between Firth and Moore. In some ways it's sorta sad that folks feel they need to do that to drive audiences (or Academy voters) into theaters. But if it gets more folks in to see a movie they might not otherwise then perhaps it's not the worst thing in the word.