We first meet Joe working on a coal barge for Les (Peter Mullan). One grey morning (and in this film, they're all grey), the men fish the corpse of a beautiful young woman out of the canal. The two shrug and take puffs off their hand-rolled ciggies as the barge moves on, enveloped by fog and David Byrne's brooding soundtrack.
Les' unhappy wife Ella is played by Tilda Swinton in a memorable performance. It's not long before Joe and Ella have needy sex by the banks of the canal, right under the unseeing eyes of the impotent cuckold. As Joe goes on to cheat on the cheating wife, we piece together a history of broken dreams and lost love, while the mystery of the drowned girl slowly unravels.
It's been seven long years since we've last since Ewan McGregor's penis (in Peter Greenaway's "The Pillow Book") and while Im glad he's not exclusively dedicated to wielding a light saber, the misbegotten affair onboard a sooty coal barge is not as glamorous a role as one could wish from the marvelous leading man of "Moulin Rouge."
There is nothing liberating about Joe's amoral dalliances, and there is surprising little pleasure in them. Unlike Alfie or Sebastian Dangerfield, Joe does not appear to know how to have fun.
"Young Adam" is showing at the New York Film Festival on October 8 and 9. The film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and open in New York and Los Angeles on April 16, 2004.