Reviewer's Rating 5 out of 5  
Young Adam (2003)
18Contains some strong sexual elements and language

Poetic justice? Leave it to the romantics, liberal bleeding hearts, and John Grisham. Those of you with similarly delicate sensibilities should steer clear of David Mackenzie's adaptation of the carnal pulp noir Young Adam, penned in 1957 by Glasgow beatnik Alexander Trocchi. Watching it is rather like finding yourself impaled on a steel rod. It is sharp, cold, and thoroughly riveting.


In maybe his most finely tuned performance, Ewan McGregor is quietly profound as Joe. He is the artist as a young man: a frustrated writer drifting through life on the Scottish canals, forced to find actual paying work aboard a barge captained by salt-of-the-earth Les (Peter Mullan). A sense of foreboding is palpable from the outset when Joe and Les happen upon the bloated, semi-naked corpse of a young woman bobbing on the water. In their otherwise dull, workaday existence, the grisly find sparks a minor intrigue.

Joe also finds diversion in the form of Les' inscrutable wife Ella (a hard-as-nails Tilda Swinton). Without any obvious moral compunction, he uses sex like a sedative, and is hopelessly addicted.

Mackenzie plays with time to weave a subtle but beautifully intricate tapestry of Joe's spiritual demise. In a skilful use of flashbacks he draws upon Joe's relationship with malleable ex-girlfriend Cathie, who is fearlessly laid bare by Emily Mortimer. The most arresting scene - indeed the most disturbing - draws in graphic detail the brutality of Joe's sexual relationship with Cathie. It becomes apparent that, for Joe, sex is more an expression of anger than love.

Young Adam completely shatters the sanitised image of 50s Britain as, inch by inch, Mackenzie pulls you nose-deep into Joe's crushing existential anxiety. The effect is seamless. But be warned: Don't expect to exit the theatre with warm and fuzzy notions of redemption, or salvation. Mackenzie coolly denies you any comfort, because sometimes the end is just the end, and that's all.

End Credits

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: David Mackenzie

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone

Genre: Crime, Drama

Length: 97 minutes

Cinema: 26 September 2003

Country: UK/France

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