Sexy Beast 

Young Adam's Tense Encounters

Young Adam

dir. Mackenzie

Opens Fri May 7

Various Theaters

Much of the driving force in the new Ewan McGregor drama Young Adam hinges not on seeing McGregor's modestly sized penis or his frustrated, unquenchable kinkiness (both of which lend this movie its NC-17 rating), but on what should be guilty erotic excitement surrounding nearly every sexual coupling in the film. Set near Glasgow some time after World War II, the movie follows Joe (McGregor), a James Dean-esque character smoldering with secrets and sexual desire, through his tangled life as a coal merchant. He starts the film working for a couple, Ella and Les (a ragged-looking Tilda Swinton and Peter Mullan), in their cramped barge/home with their young son, doing a hard day's labor without any outlets to let off steam, as it were. With all the claustrophobic shots of the confines in which the four live (scenes set in bedroom quarters the size of broom closets, giving every action a dark foreshadowing of a looming reaction) you know it's only a matter of time before libidos flare and the living/working structure they've all set up catches fire.

The compression of desire, enhanced by wanting badly what one can't have and then taking it anyway, makes for some incredibly hot sex scenes--if only Swinton didn't look like such a wilted weed the whole time. But the real problem is that Young Adam (based on the book by Alexander Trocchi) builds up a steamy focal point for the movie, only to shift to something broader that never seems to pull the same weight. The other narrative strand stems from a woman's dead body Joe and Les pull from the river, one that may be connected back to one of them. As the story further unfolds, Joe comes across as a man constantly getting himself into guilty encounters (humiliating one girlfriend, cheating on another), but instead of really examining that coal-like compression of fear, sexual drive, and anxiety, the film just drifts like an observant lens across them, leaving a story that bobs along the surface like the woman's corpse that provides its central mystery.

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