Young Adam

on April 16, 2004 by Mary Colbert
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Ewan McGregor is now a major Hollywood star, but the quality of his performances have not necessarily correlated with his meteoric rise to stardom. Some of his best work still dates back to his low-budget roots in early works like "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting." Until now, that is. Never have his talents been so evident than in this tour-de-force performance in David McKenzie's highly impressive second film, "Young Adam," adapted from the 1950s novel of Beat generation figure Alexander Trocchi.Onscreen throughout, McGregor plays the enigmatic Joe, an existential drifter working on a barge owned by Ella (Tilda Swinton) and Les (Peter Mullan) in the canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh. When he brazenly starts an affair with a very willing Ella under her husband's nose, a pressure cooker atmosphere heats up on board. Simultaneously, Joe's discovery of the corpse of an attractive woman in the river creates an intersecting thriller narrative that gradually pieces together the mosaic fragments of Joe's past life as an aspiring writer in a previous volatile relationship. As investigations close in, McKenzie ups the ante, deftly interweaving the claustrophobic crucible of the barge with the arrest of the alleged murderer.

McKenzie, whose considerable talent was evident in his debut feature, "The Last Great Wilderness," elicits understated but very strong performances from his cast (with the exception of Mullan, who's a little too easily subdued in an uncharacteristic role of weak loser husband). McGregor injects the lead with a potent mix of callous sensuality, laid-back intelligence and emotionally sparse charisma.

But McKenzie's achievements lie far deeper, in stylishly crafting a morbidly poetic aesthetic evocative of 1940s and '50s film noir in which his dysfunctional antihero becomes an integral part of the emotionally suppressed landscape.

For those who prefer their thrills via erotic action, McKenzie also delivers, doing for custard what Bertolucci did for butter in "Last Tango in Paris." Starring Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer. Directed and written by David McKenzie. Produced by Jeremy Thomas. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama/Thriller. Not yet rated. Running time: 93 min

Tags: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, sex, infidelity, Glasgow, barge, drifter, dockworker, adaptation, Alexander Trocchi, film noir, depression, cold, romance, erotic, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, David McKenzie
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