Directed by David Mackenzie, starring Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer.
The body of a young woman is found by coal men Joe (McGregor) and his boss Les (Mullan) floating next to their barge on the Glasgow docks. The discovery is that evening's talking point between the two men and Les' wife Ella (Swinton), who together face the daily grind of dirty work and cramped living on the canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh. But as the police rule out suicide, and the search for a killer intensifies, Joe travels back in his memories to his time with former girlfriend Cathie (a touching Mortimer) and then tries to keep his mind off his mind by having an affair with Ella.
McGregor always deserves praise for a career that manages to combine blockbusters with small movies and 'Young Adam' is an intriguing, if somewhat unfulfilling, look at guilt and lust. Based on Beat writer Alexander Trocchi's novel, it strips the thin veneer of morality in 1950's Glasgow and shows how the selfishness of Joe's life impacts on three other people's.
With notions about being a writer - although we never find out if he is any good - he humiliates and leaves Cathie (in the film's most harrowing scene) but his hopes of journeying to China get him as far as Les' barge, and later, wife. Thanks to the excellent performances the dynamic between the three is well-realised, with McGregor a compelling anti-hero, Swinton acidic and Mullan's hapless boozer trapped between a worn out marriage and affection for his employee.
But 'Young Adam' often feels like two movies rolled into one: the triangle between Joe, Ella and Les, and then the events which brought the drifter to their door. It's a split that works well for over half the film, but once the consequences of Joe's inaction start to mount, it loses much of its intrigue, the pace becoming as languid as a trip down the canal.
If you reckon that's worth it for some redemption at the end, don't. Mackenzie never tries to get the bad taste out of your mouth and there are no tearful reunions, acts of courage or closure with the past. Instead what you have to deal with is one's man profession of love - for himself - and the belief that even if this film won't brighten anyone's day, it's one of McGregor's strongest performances. And that's far easier to square away than the choice his character has to make.