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With: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Therese Bradley
Written by: David Mackenzie, based on a novel by Alexander Trocchi
Directed by: David Mackenzie
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for some explicit sexual content
Running Time: 98
Date: 05/16/2003

Young Adam (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Casual Vex

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Virtually every female in Young Adam has sex with Joe Taylor (Ewan McGregor) at some point. And if he's not having sex, he's puffing on a cigarette. It leaves us to wonder if, for Joe, there's any difference between the two.

Joe is a writer who, after a breakup with his girlfriend Cathie (Emily Mortimer), gets a job on a Glasgow-Edinburgh barge, just like in L'Atalante. He lives and works in close quarters with Les (Peter Mullan), Les' wife Ella (Tilda Swinton) and their young son (Jack McElhone).

As the film begins, Joe and Les pull the body of a young woman out of the water and watch as the police go through their routine trying to figure out who she is and how she got there.

Perhaps out of boredom or malice, Joe starts flirting with Ella and eventually seduces her. Les finds out and abandons ship, leaving Joe on board with Ella, who begins to plan their wedding. Joe runs away, sleeps with more women and smokes more.

During flashbacks we discover Joe's connection with the girl's body, and how he is involved in the subsequent murder trial.

It's hard to figure out exactly what Young Adam wants to accomplish. Stripped down, it's nothing but a lurid potpoiler, a pulp thriller full of murder, deceit, sex and smoking. But as written and directed by David Mackenzie -- based on the novel by Alexander Trocchi -- the film slows everything down. Mackenzie tries to elevate the importance of the events by letting them stew in their juices for a while.

But the result is more tedious than titillating. My guess is that we're supposed to wonder about Joe's moral center. Will he do the right thing, or not? The film leaves off ambiguously without even answering its own question. But what makes him amoral, if that's the case? Is it because he's a writer? Or that he has so much sex and smokes? I'm not even sure the film itself has the energy to bother asking these questions.

Mackenzie does possess a good visual sense, and an interesting way of toning down the three actors' personalities and making them appear as ciphers. It helps that we have three highly potent stars here and that there's so much to see just on their faces. Perhaps this will serve as the director's calling card in the hopes of something more interesting, or something at least more passionate.

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