Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed at present
SCOTTISH Beat writer, Alexander Trocchis 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,
Ewan McGregor, casting aside the nice guy image of late, stars
as existential drifter, Joe, who finds work on a barge run by
Peter Mullans 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
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, McGregors 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.
Joes sense of loneliness and desolation is expertly portrayed
by McGregor, who provides a commanding presence throughout; the
type of character one cant 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 Swintons 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 Mortimers 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
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.
Its not an easy journey, and certainly not for the sensitive
(particularly during the movies most unflinchingly brutal
sexual moment), but for the power of McGregors 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.