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YOUNG ADAM (NC-17) (2003)

Sony Pictures Classics

Official Site

Director: David Mackenzie

Producer: Jeremy Thomas

Written by: David Mackenzie; from the novel by Alexander Trocchi

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer



Young Adam moves at the pace of the barge its characters live on.

Set in the 1950s in the canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the film trails Joe (McGregor), a generic drifter/tortured writer type who must grapple with a dark secret. Joe, who has recently taken a job with a family of barge-people, spots a dead woman in the canal and fishes her out with the help of the vessel’s captain, Les (Mullan). A little too touchy-feely with the body and prone to giving hints about what “might” have happened to the drowned woman, it seems Joe is making a half-assed cry for help, but alas, none of the other characters care to listen.

Through Joe’s gaze we meet Les’ homely, miserable wife Ella (Swinton). Cold ball-breaker that she is, Ella is powerless against the charms of the bohemian mystery man, and one can’t really blame her, because her husband is an impotent drunkard. Living in such close quarters, Les is bound to find out that Joe is sleeping with his wife, and although Ella hopes to leave Les for her new lover, Joe has his fingers in various other pies. Director David Mackenzie takes about 10 minutes to set up this situation, then lets it go downhill from there.

The story itself isn’t horrible, because Mackenzie didn’t write it; it is an adaptation of a novel by Alexander Trocchi. However, Mackenzie manages to stifle its captivating elements by over-directing and under-editing. The film desperately needs paring-down. The real mystery of Young Adam isn’t the case of the floating corpse, but the director’s decision to include such an obscene amount of boat-riding footage.

Mackenzie attempts to mask the monotony with a non-sequential narrative and a lot of nudity, but face it, for all its flashbacks and T&A, Young Adam is still a sinker. Unfortunately for McGregor, it isn’t razzle-dazzle spectacle like Moulin Rouge! As much as he wants to embody anti-heroic intensity, he seems frozen in a perpetual state of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

But is this movie sexy? It damn well should be, because the many “Look, I’m on a barge!” scenes aren’t at all stimulating. While there is a lot of sex—especially in the great outdoors—Young Adam is more foggy than steamy. The NC-17 rating is a gimmick. The hot gossip: Mr. McGregor’s few seconds of full-frontal nudity were slated to be cut from the U.S. release, but McGregor, man on a mission, insisted the footage remain intact. For all his phallic pride, his flash of nudity does nothing for the movie. His character is simply uninteresting.

Even in the few moments when Mackenzie comes close to shocking or disturbing us, the forcedness of the acting and the film’s general lack of continuity spoils the effect. All in all, though Tilda Swinton’s performance isn’t half bad and the cinematography is sometimes attractive, Young Adam just isn’t worth seven dollars and two hours of your time.

—Leah Churner


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