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David Mackenzie's compelling and authoritative adaptation of Alexander Trocchi's 1953 novel revolves around a nihilistic bargeman (perfectly embodied by Ewan McGregor) who works the canals between Edinburgh and Glasgow and spends all his free time reading and screwing (often adulterously). This emotional detachment is often treated as an existential position, so the story occasionally suggests a beat version of Camus' The Stranger, with the images' sensual and erotic power often superseding any literal meaning. Despite the flashback structure, this is a film in which mood matters more than plot, while the hero's heroic stature steadily shrinks. All in all, a very impressive second feature. With Tilda Swinton (The Deep End), Peter Mullan (My Name Is Joe), and Emily Mortimer. NC-17, 93 min.

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