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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Young Adam (2004)

“There she’d be, standing in her petticoat, thinking about whatever it was that brought her to this. And then with her petticoat billowing around her, she’d drop into the water like a rose and float there for a moment, and be gone.”
- Joe (Ewan McGregor)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: September 12, 2004

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton
Other Stars: Peter Mullan, Emily Mortimer
Director: David Mackenzie

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, some disturbing behavior and language
Run Time: 01h:36m:56s
Release Date: September 14, 2004
UPC: 025192053320
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-A-B+ B-

DVD Review

We all have dark urges. The line that divides us between decency and criminality can be uncomfortably thin from time to time. Criminality can refer to not only the breaking of written law, but of moral precepts, the effects of which can be just as long lasting and disastrous. Certainly, most of us are able to contain and control our darker selves, but at times, things may emerge that we regret. Such losses of control land some people behind bars, while others must live with their conscience. These tendencies are dubbed with the adage "old Adam," or our original sin, passed down through the generations from the first man who disobeyed God. Young Adam is a morality tale that gives this old term new meaning.

Joe (Ewan McGregor) is a young, virile male, constantly on the prowl for his next female conquest, though you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at him. He is seemingly mild-mannered and intelligent, aspiring to be a writer when it's convenient. His scholastic potential has at the very least been ignored; he makes his living working on a coal barge among the canals of Scotland. It's a simple life that seems to appeal to him. He lives on the boat with his married employers Ella (Tilda Swinton) and Les Gault (Peter Mullan). The pair is constantly at odds, completely devoid of love and affection; Joe's presence makes things even more uncomfortable. Les is unable to please his wife in any way and she is obviously bitter toward the rather genteel man. Perhaps this is the allure of the situation to Joe—it's prime hunting ground.

When Joe and Les find the body of a young girl in the canal, they pull her out and inform the authorities. The body is without injury, suggesting no foul play was involved. Joe knows better, though, placing his hand gently on the cold alabaster corpse. Ella sees this, but thinks little of it. While Les is engrossed with beer, darts, and looking for his name in the newspaper, Joe moves in on Ella, and the two begin a torrid affair. This is not his first conquest; Joe is a master of preying on the lonely, using his supreme confidence and masculine posturing to control. The women are by no means blameless in these matters, though Joe's outright manipulation is clear. Before the tale ends, a reckoning will come, and the rope will tighten, revealing Joe's true involvement in the death of the girl and even more grievous, his lack of moral character.

Ewan McGregor is superb in this little-seen film. His depiction of Joe plays with our emotions from scene to intense scene, making us question his true demeanor and character. Is Joe evil incarnate, or simply a promiscuous young man who has gotten in over his head? He personifies our dark tendencies and acts out on them, having little regard for the damage he leaves in his wake. Still, his conscience is not missing. Later in the film, he is put on trial in a very indirect fashion. Clearly, guilt is seeping into his gait, but will it affect his actions? Morality is front and center here, portrayed through biting scenes of dialogue and even silence. Tilda Swinton is a fine match for the chameleon-like McGregor, whose bitter, cold demeanor becomes anything but when she's in the right mood. Peter Mullan delivers the right balance of willful ignorance and simple-mindedness, while Emily Mortimer, Joe's ex, is more than one who gets caught up with the bad boys.

Based on the novel by Alexander Trocchi, Young Adam is a standout effort from director David Mackenzie. The desaturated 'scope photography, bathed in cool grays and blues, gives this nonlinear film a noir feel; rightfully so, but this is a tale of mystery that goes far beyond "Whodunnit?" This is a sexually graphic and at times brutal film, originally released under the hex of NC-17. The cover states it is rated R, suggesting some things have been cut (this is the only version available on home video). There may be a trim here and there, but it wouldn't shock me if this version retained the original rating. The sex does tend to halt the plot, but thankfully, it is not gratuitous throughout. The material and direction gives the performances time to breathe within the film's cold world, where moral violations can roam and "old Adams" can emerge. It's the perfect environment for Joe, who ultimately lets us determine the extent of his guilt.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image quality is top notch, exhibiting good contrast and good detail. The transfer does have a soft appearance at times, but it is quite film-like with fine grain that crops up in some darkly lit scenes. The cool colors of the desaturated visuals are well captured.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 track is nicely atmospheric, and is appropriately front centered. Imaging is wide and the surrounds provide detailed ambient fill and musical score support. Fidelity is good, and the bass kicks when needed. A fine, natural mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
0 Other Trailer(s) featuring Baadasssss!, Big Fish, Carandiru, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, The Mother
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director David Mackenzie, Tilda Swinton, editor Colin Monie, production designer Laurence Dorman; director David Mackenzie
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Extended Scene
  2. Ewan McGregor Original Passage Narration
Extras Review: Two audio commentaries are included. The first is a cast and crew track, featuring director David Mackenzie, Tilda Swinton, editor Colin Monie, and production designer Laurence Dorman. The second track contains comments from the director alone. Mackenzie's input is the highlight across the board, providing insights into the production, including some on set anecdotes, inspirations and the cast. There was quite a bit of work put into recreating the films 1950s setting, including some CGI elements undetectable to the eye.

Next is an extended version of the first love scene between Ella and Joe (02m:33s). Is this what was trimmed to obtain an R rating? The scene has little extra footage.

Finally, three audio excerpts from Ewan McGregor's abandoned voiceover is included. I'm certainly glad the filmmakers decided against it; this is a film that needs no additional exposition.

The disc only contains French subtitles. Some English subs would have been convenient to cut through some of the heavier Scots accents.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Ewan McGregor delivers a layered, memorable performance in David Mackenzie's dark drama, Young Adam. The line between reckless youth and deep moral corruption is examined, giving us the final word. Columbia's quality disc will not disappoint.


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