Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremmer, Kevin McKidd, Kelly MacDonald and Robert Carlyle
Plot: Four friends navigate life in the 90s, avoiding maturity, embracing drugs and betraying each other at every turn.
Trainspotting is one of those films immortalised into the history books, a film that can do no wrong in the eyes of the fans. It doesn’t so much as embrace a plot as much as throw us into the life of Renton, a sarcastic lad from Edinburgh who epitomises everything about the millennial generation. As the opening monologue sets in stone, Ewan McGregor’s Renton is eager to have nothing to do with the comings and goings of life that the rest of the rat race falls prey to. He proudly shouts from the rooftops how he has broken free from the desires to get a job, get married, become enslaved by the family lifestyle that people put so much faith in. And, in order to achieve, this escape from the prison that is life, he needs heroin.
And here is the crux that makes Trainspotting such an intriguing and ground-breaking film. The characters are, in the Edinburgh spitting of words that brings so much rustic charm to the picture, utter shites. Renton reels off his philosophies like a life guru, but his addiction to heroin brings misery to everyone around him. It is hard to summon up the same support you had for the character at the bright and breezy start when he shrugs off his parents’ kind attempt to wean him off the heroin, because ‘they don’t understand’. There are several moments in the film that hit home just how selfish he is, but the joy of witnessing them would ruin the watch for you. His friends are not much better. Ewen Bremmer is the idiot friend, the poster boy for heroin addicts, pasty white, stick thin and gormless. Jonny Lee Miller oozes charisma but is as trustworthy as a snake. And then there is Robert Carlyle’s cult character of Begbie, ironically the only character in the group who doesn’t inject heroin, yet he is easily the foulest of the lot. Short-tempered, starting fights to get over a bout of boredom or hide insecurity and terrifyingly unpredictable, he is less one of Renton’s friends and more of a man you put up with for living in the same area. None of these characters are particularly heroic and most of the movie involves them making each other’s lives a misery. Even when they are trying to help, they are enabling each other’s addiction to heroin. One tragic moment, the most slow-burning out of all of the sad shocks in Trainspotting, sees Ewan McGregor help his mourning friend find solace by introducing him to heroin. It is down to the sharp writing, the stellar performances and, most importantly, Danny Boyle’s on-point direction that this doesn’t become a sordid tale of hanging around with people you don’t like. There aren’t many nice things that happen in this movie, the story drifting from crisis to crisis, yet the story is told with such blackly comic enthusiasm that it is never not an entertaining thrill ride. The matter-of-fact narration from McGregor coupled with some nicely-timed gags can turn the darkest of moments into tragic comedy. It is tragic because the characters take such horror on the chin and hide behind their heroin addiction. It is, at times, uncomfortable to watch, but it is never unbearable. Quite the opposite…
Danny Boyle comes into his own here. It could be one of his finest works, at the very least, his most iconic. There is the sense that this rag-tag, impossible story would have been a total failure in the hands of any other director. There is a vibrant energy pulsating throughout the core of this movie that draws you in. The direction of the actors, the trance soundtrack, the cautious handle on the tone… But most of all the cinematography. There are several moments in Trainspotting that will never leave my memory. While it might take a few watches to fully appreciate the whole of this story (it is told very fast and loose), you will still walk away applauding it for some of the genius moments. The highlight of the film is a terrifying come-down. Renton is locked in his room by his parents, until he has his addiction flushed from his body and the hallucinations that he experiences are chillingly effective. But it is more than simply throwing some horrific imagery on-screen, but the fluid camera movements that Boyle uses to capture what we are seeing. We feel trapped inside the head of a junkie. While Boyle exposes the brutality of the addiction of a heroin addict, he never judges it. What remains is a shocking piece of 90s cinema, that we cannot help but marvel why. While time has opened up a few flaws to nitpick over (Kelly MacDonald is sadly under-used, the third act never captures the energy of the first two), on the whole, we are left with a stunning piece of film-making that other directors can only hope to achieve.
Final Verdict: British film-making at its very best, a black comedy that captures so much in its 90 minute running time.