Sex, drugs, rock and roll-ups - - Scots writer Alexander Trocchi lived an extraordinary yet unpleasant life. A junkie who whored both his wife and his talent (the latter by writing pornography), he wrote two acknowledged Beat classics: Cain's Book and Young Adam, a grubby sexual drama that has now been adapted by writer/ director David Mackenzie.
It starts damp and dark, as 1950s bargehand Joe (Ewan McGregor) and his boss Les (Peter Mullan) discover a dead woman in a canal. Hands slipping on her mottled skin, they haul her in and fetch the police before continuing their journey. Les keeps an interested eye on the case, but Joe just wants to forget about it - - with help from Les' missus Ella (Tilda Swinton).
Sex drives McGregor's antihero, who lives for (and through) the frantic fumblings grabbed behind Les' back. But he generates no emotional attachment to Ella. For Joe, coital encounters are about as meaningful as masturbation.
Mackenzie effectively captures Joe's alienation and deserves credit for translating the tone of Trocchi's novel onto celluloid. Chopping back and forth in time as Joe's relationship with the corpse is uncovered, he turns an unfilmable book into a cinematic experience. This is a downbeat drama with an intimate quality, McGregor proving effective as an empty figure trying to fuck his way to feeling.
He's too effective, in fact - - it's very hard to care about him or anyone else. Maybe that's a consequence of the subject matter, but Young Adam feels terribly detached. Good looking, yes, but cold to the touch.