Young Adam (2003)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #100

Everyone has a past.
Everyone has a secret.

Country: UK & France
Language: English
Runtime: 98 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: NC-17 (uncut) | R (cut)

Original Release: 4th September 2003 (Netherlands)
UK Release: 26th September 2003
First Seen: DVD, c.2005

Stars
Ewan McGregor (Shallow Grave, Big Fish)
Tilda Swinton (Orlando, We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Peter Mullan (Trainspotting, Tyrannosaur)
Emily Mortimer (Lovely & Amazing, Match Point)

Director
David Mackenzie (Starred Up, Hell or High Water)

Screenwriter
David Mackenzie (The Last Great Wilderness, Hallam Foe)

Based on
Young Adam, a novel by Alexander Trocchi.

The Story
Joe is earning his keep helping transport coal on a barge between Glasgow and Edinburgh, spending his free time lusting after his employer’s wife, when he spots a woman’s dead body floating in the canal — something Joe knows more about than he lets on…

Our Hero
Joe is a young drifter, who’s wound up working on a barge with Les and Ella Gault and their son. He’s a horny bugger, sex obsessed to the point of distraction, which will have an effect on everyone’s lives.

Our Villain
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say the film is a murder mystery — especially as it’s not clear if the woman was indeed murdered. But how did she die? How was Joe involved? He’s the main character, which makes him the hero, but is he actually a bad’un?

Best Supporting Character
Harried barge wife Ella is not anyone’s typical image of desirability, but nonetheless becomes the object of Joe’s own brand of affections, which brings her some happiness… for a while. Mainly, it’s a brilliant, layered performance by Tilda Swinton.

Memorable Quote
Joe: “Are you sorry?”
Ella: “Fat lot of good that would do me.”

Memorable Scene
Cathie, another of Joe’s lovers, comes home soaking wet. As she undresses, she berates him for doing nothing useful with his time. He informs he has made custard, which he throws over her, followed by various other condiments. Then there is, shall we say, an act with (at best) debatable consent. I believe this is a version of something called “sploshing” (thanks, internet).

Memorable Music
David Byrne’s ambient score haunts the soundtrack, as essential to the film’s grey mood as the drizzly Scottish locations and overcast photography. My favourite part is the plaintive closing song, The Great Western Road.

Awards
4 BAFTA Scotland Awards (Film, Actor in a Scottish Film (Ewan McGregor), Actress in a Scottish Film (Tilda Swinton), Director)
4 British Independent Film Award nominations (British Independent Film, Actor (Ewan McGregor), Actress (Tilda Swinton), Director)
3 Empire Awards nominations (British Film, British Actor (Ewan McGregor), British Actress (Emily Mortimer))

What the Critics Said
“Joe is a hard case. Opaque. Not tender, not good with the small talk. Around women, he has a certain intensity that informs them he plans to have sex with them, and it is up to them to agree or go away. He is not a rapist, but he has only one purpose in his mind, and some women find that intensity of focus to be exciting. It’s as if, at the same time, he cares nothing for them and can think only of them. […] He is not a murderer but a man unwilling to intervene, a man so detached, so cold, so willing to sacrifice others to his own convenience, that perhaps in his mind it occurs that he would feel better about the young woman’s death if he had actually, actively, killed her. Then at least he would know what he had done and would not find such emptiness when he looks inside himself. This is an almost Dostoyevskian study of a man brooding upon evil until it paralyzes him. […] The death of the girl and the plot surrounding it are handled not as a crime or a mystery but as an event that jars characters out of their fixed orbits. When you have a policy of behavior, a pose toward the world, that has hardened like concrete into who you are, it takes more than guilt to break you loose.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Score: 62%

What the Public Say
“McGregor, putting his meat and two veg on show once again, is really good as the conflicted and sex addict, Swinton does almost steal the show as the sex-craving barge woman, who also gets naked, and Mortimer in the flashbacks is very good, with her clothes off too. The film is just stuffed with sexual scenes, and with the dead body premise it combines film noir and melodrama, all adding up to a well crafted and most watchable period drama.” — Jackson Booth-Millard @ IMDb

Verdict

Part murder mystery, part beat character study, part erotic drama, Young Adam is an enigmatic, moody, conflicted film — in a good way. It presents a grimily realistic view of life and sex, around which writhes a murder mystery that, as it turns out, doesn’t contain a murder and, relatively quickly, isn’t much of a mystery. Instead it’s something of an ethical dilemma, presented to a character who’s not exactly unethical but isn’t necessarily concerned about doing what’s right either, especially if it’s against his own interests. Not a cheery one, then, but a film of grey morals, grey imagery, and grey mood — in a good way.

Next time… looking back over my 100 favourites.

Shallow Grave (1994)

2015 #105
Danny Boyle | 89 mins | TV | 16:9 | UK / English | 18 / R

The debut feature of director Danny Boyle was hailed on release for being a British film that wasn’t another period-piece literary adaptation. Instead, it concerns three ultra-chummy flatmates in contemporary Edinburgh (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox) who take in a fourth lodger, who promptly dies, leaving behind an insane amount of cash. Rather than report it, they dispose of the corpse and keep the cash. You don’t get much further from Merchant-Ivory than that.

Naturally, things don’t go swimmingly. The trio’s subsequent behaviour begins to cause ruptures among them; there are some Nasty Men looking for the cash; and when the remains are discovered the police get involved. It’s kind of a dark thriller, as it sounds, but also funny — the kind of film the ’90s specialised in, in some respects (think Fight Club, say). It’s also morally and emotionally complex, however. The flatmates aren’t the villains, they’re ‘us’, tempted to extremes by unusual circumstances. Consequently, it has that great discussion-generating feature of many a zeitgeist-y ‘watercooler’ film: what would you do?

Of course, it’s testament to the film’s quality — Boyle’s kinetic direction, the accomplished performances, the entertaining screenplay — that Shallow Grave endures past that initial ponderance to remain one of the Oscar-winning auteur’s best films.

5 out of 5

Red Riding: 1983 (2009)

aka Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1983

2009 #52
Anand Tucker | 100 mins | TV (HD) | 15

Red Riding: 1983The Red Riding Trilogy draws to a close with its finest instalment, a superior work in just about every respect.

From the off, 1983 returns to the story of the previous films, showing events from different perspectives. It’s dominated by a new story — the search for a child kidnapper in the titular year — but even this harks back to the past, the actual kidnapping closely resembling the one that kick-started 1974. Indeed, it’s 1974 that’s primarily drawn upon, confirming 1980 as little more than an aside in the scope of the trilogy.

1983 doesn’t just reiterate, however, but builds on previously-seen events and characters, both overtly — showing the police investigation into Clare Kemplay, which was the story of 1974 — and more subtly — Hunter’s apparent sidekick being present at secret meetings of the Evil Policemen in 1974. Despite clear links to the past, 1983 may also work well enough on its own. It’s undeniable that there’s more depth when viewed in light of the first two films, but most (perhaps all) of it would be comprehensible simply from what’s presented here.

Tucker’s film bests its predecessors in almost every assessable value. The story and characters have more genuine surprises and suspense than ever, while the performances are at the very least the equal of what’s gone before. Unlike the other two films, where the corrupt cops were little more than cartoon villains despite claims to the contrary, 1983 makes their brutality really felt; here, for the first time in the trilogy, their disregard for the law and their vicious methods made me feel sickened and angry, just as they should.

But best of all is the stunning sepia-tinged cinematography, which uses the popular RED cameras to amazing effect. The instances of beauty are too numerous to mention, from obvious moments such as the final scenes of white feathers drifting in slow motion through shards of sunlight as part of a heroic closing image (even if one finds it tonally incongruous, which some surely will, it looks gorgeous), to low-key scenes like Jobson lost in contemplation, the sepia-toned foreground standing out from the blues of the background. The omnipresence of lens flare, an idea that was so annoying when liberally sprinkled across Star Trek, seems to work perfectly here. Perhaps it’s due to consistency: every light source seems to cast streaks across the frame, not just the occasional flourish. The trilogy isn’t yet available on Blu-ray, but for some of the images in this film alone it really should be.

Sadly, 1983 still isn’t perfect. Many plot threads are tied off, or we can infer our own explanations for the missing bits, but significant others are left hanging, not least what happened to the numerous corrupt police officers. We don’t necessarily need to see them come to justice — though that might be nice, obviously — or even a summary of the rest of their life, but some nod of a conclusion to their stories would be appreciated. Elsewhere, BJ’s narration is slightly twee, which is a shame because his story is both compelling and one of very few that is actually told across all three films, even though he’s barely noticed at first, rather than just starring in one and cameoing in the others.

I enjoyed 1983 immensely, much more so than either of the preceding films, so it’s only minor flaws like these that hold it back from full marks.

4 out of 5

The Red Riding Trilogy

Red Riding Trilogy UKYou’d think Red Riding was a TV miniseries, wouldn’t you? After all, it was on Channel 4 on the same day for three consecutive weeks (recently repeated over three consecutive nights).

But the promotion — on iTunes, for example, or of Silva Screen’s soundtrack releases — is very keen to make reference not to “Red Riding” — as in, the title of a TV series — but “The Red Riding Trilogy” — as in, a series of films. Indeed, they are frequently referred to as “the films” (and similar variations thereof) in promotion and press, have received screenings at various film festivals and cinema releases in much of the rest of the world, including the US, and several other production and style points could also be rallied to confirm them as a film trilogy rather than miniseries.

As that’s how the makers would most like them to be regarded, then, it seems only fair to treat them as such. And so:


“The feeling one gets is of a British James Ellroy, albeit a low-rent, less complex version. The story idles along, not exactly slow so much as in no hurry, full of near-clichéd plot points and an unrelentingly standard structure. These things aren’t necessarily a problem, but when you’ve got as big and bold a reality claim as the Red Riding Trilogy they feel out of place.” More…

3 out of 5


“Where the first idled this meanders, flitting between the Yorkshire Ripper, the investigation into the Karachi Club shooting, and the private life of lead character Peter Hunter. Most time is spent on Hunter’s investigation into the investigation of the Ripper case, though by the end it becomes apparent this exists to cover the ‘real’ story — which is, of course, the Karachi Club cover up. Consequently neither are covered with the appropriate depth.” More…

3 out of 5


“Tucker’s film bests its predecessors in almost every assessable value. The story and characters have more genuine surprises and suspense than ever, while the performances are at the very least the equal of what’s gone before. Unlike the other two films, where the corrupt cops were little more than cartoon villains despite claims to the contrary, 1983 makes their brutality really felt.” More…

4 out of 5



Red Riding Trilogy USMy final thoughts about Red Riding — other than “that was disappointing” — are stuck on the reality (or not) of the police corruption it portrays. It’s difficult to know whether anyone who believes our police were never so nasty as this is naive, or whether anyone who believes they were quite this bad is paranoid. The truth no doubt lies somewhere in between.

Despite my disappointment with the majority of the Red Riding Trilogy, I intend to return to it some day: considering my enjoyment of the third instalment and the adjusted expectations that come from being disappointed first time round, the potential inherent in the trilogy means it certainly merits revisiting.