January 16, 2005

Film thoughts: Young Adam

I just finished watching Young Adam, a small-budget Scottish film starring noneother than Obie Wan himself, Ewen McGregor.

Okay, he's done some big budget schlock, his turn as the great Jedi included. But between this film, Shallow Grave and The Pillow Book, he's done some damned fine small film work. Throw in his role in Trainspotting (which in my opinion doesn't cast the slightest shadow next to Irvine Welsh's book, but gets heaps of praise from a lot of otherwise intelligent filmgoers), and he's a helluva lot more than just a pretty Scottish face.

The film itself is a sparse, bleak look at life on a Scottish barge in the 1950s. The brooding Joe (McGregor) is employed by Les (Peter Mullan), a greying, drinking older chap) and Ella (Tilda Swinton), a hard-nosed, plain-faced woman clearly unhappy with her lot in life. The setup is slow and intriguing, but doesn't last long. Joe soon jumps into bed with Ella and splits the barge couple up.

Swinton steals this picture. She's harsh; her tongue lashes out at the men in her life with all the passion she's been lacking in the bedroom. She portrays Ella's frustration beautifully; like Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient, she burns deeply but shows little. Even when she's lovemaking, or weeping openly, she's never fully bared to those around her. A wonderful performance that deserves to be seen.

Here she is:

We're treated to flashbacks about Joe's more comely ex, Cathie (Emily Mortimer), which is when we see his true colours. A failed writer, he's more failed than writer; he's more pathetic than brooding.

It's by no means a romance, and by even less a thriller. But there is a body, some intrigue, and loads of character study. From a cinematography perspective, director David Mackenzie does a wonderful job of translating the claustrophobic confines of life on the water. His use of light (or lack thereof) is marvelous, and I'm quite looking forward to checking out some of his other work. He also wrote the screenplay for this film, based on a book by the late Scottish writer, Alexander Trocchi.

No comments: