For Joe (Ewan McGregor), life is slow and squalid. But that's your lot when you work and sleep on a Scottish barge. Too studly if not too virtuous for his surroundings, Joe passes the time by helping himself to handfuls of his boss's frumpish wife (Tilda Swinton). Beneath his overgrown-schoolboy surface, though, the murky waters of turmoil run deep. This seeming libertine is haunted by twin demons: the memory of a relationship gone wrong, and the body of a dead woman he dredged up from the canal one fateful day. The intersection of those obsessions may explain why Joe seems determined to boff everything in a skirt of which his world holds a never-ending supply.
The film relies heavily on explicit, mostly unerotic nudity; yes, Obi-Wan McGregor gets to wave his light saber around yet again. Subtract the skin shots and related coupling, and you're left with about an hour's worth of decent psychodrama. The story (adapted by director MacKenzie from a 1957 novel by Alexander Trocchi) has the gumption to make Joe a real rotter in several key regards, but he still evokes more sympathy than anyone must have intended. After all, it's no fun to find out that having great hair and a nice package won't emancipate you from an environment where there's bugger-all to do but have sex with Tilda Swinton. Once again, a movie steps forward to teach us the hard lessons.