Make no mistake - this is an incredibly difficult watch. Grim, moody, and dry as a bleached bone, Young Adam feels enervated every step of the way. It's not exactly a picture of great rewards either; it's bursting with eroticism, but it seems mired in the personal miseries of its participants and the filming of the deeds is much less about titillation than naked, ugly ribaldry. In a way, Young Adam is a great actorly curio, putting a handful of brave performers in front of us and asking them to do some uncomfortable things. This is by far the most irrepressibly sad Tilda Swinton has ever been on film, underlined by an unexpected crying jag and some really misguided emotional decisions. Ewan McGregor doesn't seem terribly conservative about appearing nude in movies, but bumpin' and grindin' against no fewer than four of your female costars for any given amount of takes must get awkward at some point. Perhaps the greatest humiliation of all is spared for Emily Mortimer in a scene too bizarre and too vital to be spoiled. It's an absolutely excellent, vivid, repugnant character moment, something that tells us more about Joe than the sum of all his actions for the past hour had.
Honestly, I wasn't really affected in any particular way by this movie. I was impressed, sure, and held effectively in thrall. I didn't feel like anything meaningful had been said or shown, though. In that way I guess it's a very modernist product, where the film's aim is a collective contract between the text, the auteur and the audience and we're left to disentangle the meaning from the events left to us. Young Adam is temporally neutral and extremely simple and would probably make the most sense to a viewer as a really, really depressing slice of life. It's got the whole "karma is dead" thing from Match Point going on, where injustice seems to be the name of the game and the characters resolve themselves to what befalls them. Kudos also to the film's sensibly chopped-and-screwed narrative structure, hanging its greatest mystery halfway through and letting the rest of the piece resolve itself as a character study. The performances are uniformly committed (though I think McGregor, able as he is, is miscast as a character who should be devoid of softness), the photography is nice in its low-budget austerity, and the cinematographic direction is suitably subtle and observant. I don't think the movie necessarily does anything WRONG, but it's too dour even for me, and ultimately uncritical of its characters. Again, the movie is a challenging watch, but sadly not for the right reasons.