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Film review: Young Adam

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Ewan McGregor is Joe Taylor in "Young Adam," a dramatic thriller that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

Ewan McGregor is Joe Taylor in “Young Adam,” a dramatic thriller that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

Neil Davidson, Sony Pictures Classics

"Young Adam" has kicked up quite a fuss because of its supposedly racy and intense sex scenes, which garnered the film an NC-17 rating from the Motion Pictures Association of America.

To be honest, they're not worth all the fuss, and neither is the film itself, a rather sullen, somber, moody dramatic thriller that is insufferably dour, dark and depressing.

Even the film's first-rate cast seems to be going through the motions, as if the filmmaker's instructions were to play things as robotically as possible, which doesn't help.

"Young Adam" is drawn from the novel by the late British writer Alexander Trocchi. Despite the title, it actually follows a drifter named Joe (Ewan McGregor), who finds work and a place to live aboard a barge owned by a married couple, Les (Peter Mullan) and Ella (Tilda Swinton).

It's not the most exciting work. In fact, the biggest excitement comes when Joe and Les fish a body out of the canal. And as it turns out, Joe may know more about the deceased woman (Emily Mortimer) than he's letting on.

Unbeknownst to Les, Joe is also carrying on an affair with Ella. The morally ambiguous newcomer is untroubled by that, and he's nonplussed by the discovery of the dead body. Even when a supposed suspect is arrested for murder.

The entire film leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. We're stuck seeing things from the perspective of McGregor's character, which is unfortunate, because he's not very interesting. You may find yourself wishing things had been told from the perspective of one of the other characters, perhaps Les and Ella — or even their young son.

On the plus side, the cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens) and the properly subdued score (by musician David Byrne) are first-rate.

"Young Adam" is rated NC-17 for fairly explicit scenes of simulated sex and other sexual contact, full female and male nudity, crude sexual talk, scattered use of strong sexual profanity, and violence (including some violence against women and sexual violence). Running time: 98 minutes.


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