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Young Adam (18)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed at present

SCOTTISH Beat writer, Alexander Trocchi’s gritty take on a steamy Glasgow in the early 1950s, is given a bleak, but totally uncompromising big screen adaptation, in Young Adam, a frequently riveting character study that makes for difficult, but compelling, viewing.

Ewan McGregor, casting aside the nice guy image of late, stars as existential drifter, Joe, who finds work on a barge run by Peter Mullan’s salt-of-the-earth, Les, and run by his enigmatic wife, Ella (Tilda Swinton).

When the corpse of a young woman is found floating in a canal by the two boatmen one afternoon, it soon becomes clear that Joe knows more about the drowned ‘victim’ than he is letting on, while simultaneously embarking on an intimate and passionate affair with Ella, set against the backdrop of the ensuing murder investigation.

Described as a film which is evocative of the ambience of the Hollywood film noirs of the 1940s and 50s, Young Adam attempts to point a finger at a society which, according to director, David Mackenzie, was a ‘bitter, gossip hungry, repressed lynch mob, fed on sham morality by the newspapers and eager to equate sex with crime’.

As such, McGregor’s frustrated and guilt-wracked writer, Joe, operates as an outsider, an anti-hero in the Rebel Without A Cause/Badlands mode, who operates without any moral guidelines, and who uses sex as a sort of drug, from which he finds a release from his everyday frustrations, no matter what the implications for those around him.

Joe’s sense of loneliness and desolation is expertly portrayed by McGregor, who provides a commanding presence throughout; the type of character one can’t help rooting for, despite his unwitting involvement in the misery that surrounds him, and the callousness of some of his endeavours.

His sexually explicit relationship with Swinton’s Ella is a frequently crude affair, doomed to failure, largely because of the feelings he so obviously still holds for the woman found in the canal - Emily Mortimer’s Cathie, with whom he conducted a similarly dangerous affair - and because of his failure to run away completely from a conscience that compels him to do the right thing, even though it would place him in a vulnerable position.

Needless to say, those seeking a traditional ‘feelgood’ movie about love and relationships should give this a wide berth, for this is the type of project that offers no easy answers, or conclusions, and which remains unrelentingly bleak, even beyond the final reel.

Mackenzie, the director, succeeds in creating an imagery-laden world, set around the docks, rivers, canals and coal-blackened working of 1950s Scotland, which exudes an air of repressed tension throughout.

As such, his work gets under your skin like the charcoal which is frequently being washed from the protagonists’ faces, making you feel as dirty as a result.

It’s not an easy journey, and certainly not for the sensitive (particularly during the movie’s most unflinchingly brutal sexual moment), but for the power of McGregor’s performance alone, it is one that is well worth taking, such is its undeniable ability to grip, and especially since it is a bold, daring, and brutally honest British movie, that could well be looked back on as a classic in years to come.


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