A Single Man opens Friday in select theaters

As the creative director for Gucci for a decade, Tom Ford helped turn around an ailing brand and earned himself international acclaim. Now Ford has turned his attention to the movies with his directing debut, A Single Man, based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood. Set in 1962, it depicts one day in the life of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a 50ish, gay English college professor living in a Los Angeles glass-and-timber home, eight months after the sudden death of his longtime partner, Jim (Matthew Goode). George not only lives a closeted life but is unable to openly unburden himself of the pain caused by the death of his beloved. Finding no meaning in a life of emotional solitude, George prepares to commit suicide.

Ford’s background figures highly in his directing. A Single Man contains moments of filmmaking at its most exquisite, with camerawork, costumes, set designs and a brooding soundtrack so sumptuous and evocative that they essentially become their own characters. For a while, Ford employs his visual devices to conjure a meditative, melancholy portrait of an otherwise successful man weary of bearing the yoke of private torment and public repression.

At the same time, there is no moment of George’s everyday too mundane to merit its own slow-motion montage, or too inconsequential to warrant a plaintive string accompaniment. Some of the visual imagery quickly grows pretentious, chiefly, recurring underwater footage of a floating nude male body.

What rescues the film are its two headline performances. Foremost is Firth, who effectively underplays to convey George’s crippling inner anguish. The other is Julianne Moore’s brief but blazing turn as Charley, George’s longtime, gin-fueled gal pal, in what is in many ways the film’s most complex character. Firth and Moore breathe life into Ford’s glossy canvas, elevating A Single Man from a superficial photo spread into a work of poignant elegance.