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YOUNG ADAM ***

CAST: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer, Therese Bradley, Ewan Stewart, Stuart McQuarrie, Pauline Turner, Alan Cooke, Rory McCann

DIRECTOR: David Mackenzie

One grim morning, two workers on a barge that travels sluggishly back and forth between Glasgow and Edinburgh pull the nearly nude corpse of a woman from a canal. Judging by the expression on the face of Joe Taylor, the younger man, the woman is not a total stranger. But we can’t be sure. At any rate, he keeps mum when the cops come round to call.

What we soon do know for sure is that Joe, an aspiring writer, has recently landed a temporary gig as a laborer on Les Gault’s barge, a modest, just-barely-afloat vessel which also serves as home for the kindhearted Les, his wife Ella and their young son Jack. This being the fifties, Scotland--like so many other countries--is ruled by rigidity and repression. Cunning Joe Taylor, however, is his own man and definitely no slave to convention. He knows what he wants and he is breathtakingly adept at getting it.

And what Joe craves, even more than literary renown, is hot, mind-blowing sex, with a minimum of emotional baggage. Up to a point, this is just what he finds with the frustrated, hungrily erotic Ella. Surrendering, with no evident struggle, to the heat of their lust, the couple are soon tumbling and panting virtually within sight and sound of the alleged master of the barge.

But what about Cathie, that other woman--the younger, prettier one that Joe fished from the water? We do get to know her intimately, albeit in flashback, as well as in a climactic murder trial. And the fact that we see Cathie and Joe and Ella in full frontally-nude detail may be one of the reasons the MPAA saddled "Young Adam" with the infamous NC-17 rating, thereby putting the film in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. What you should really know about writer-director David Mackenzie’s unsparing adaptation of the late Alexander Trocchi’s cult novel is that it is brilliantly interpreted by its four leads—Ewan McGregor as the drifter, Tilda Swinton and Peter Mullan as the victims of his manipulation, and Emily Mortimer as the lady of mystery—and that, even at its most unnerving, it is a richly atmospheric, perversely satisfying drama. --Guy Flatley