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Trainspotting

June 8, 2014

Trainspotting (1996)
Director: Danny Boyle
Actors: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle

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Synopsis: Edinburgh junkie, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), tries desperately to kick his heroin habit, but comes up against innumerable obstacles (namely his motley array of questionable ‘friends’, the addiction itself, and a general apathy about ‘getting ahead’ in life)…

Review: Trainspotting was the cult movie of my late-teenage years – its iconic poster adorned the walls of countless dorm rooms and scuzzy student flats, and it acted as cinematic companion to the similar ‘cool-but-mainstream’ dichotomy of Britpop that was sweeping through the country at the same time.

Well over a decade on, it’s really interesting to revisit the film (one I can recall having viewed only once very hazily around the time of its release) and unpick its legacy away from the hyperbolic public and critical reception it initially received.  Thus in retrospect, Trainspotting‘s punky, anti-bourgeois/consumerist sloganeering (‘Get a job….Choose Life’) almost seems a touch quaint and passé, treading on very similar ground to the cinematic trail blazed by Quentin Tarantino, and the literary works of Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. Some of the pop-cultural dialogue given to Sick Boy for example, isn’t really a touch on loosely similar scenes in Pulp Fiction, and its ‘ironic’ juxtaposition to the severity of the on-screen drug taking is a touch obvious.

That said, what really transmits and stands the test of time with Trainspotting is that it’s a truly great production, and like the work of some sort of maverick theatre troupe, it’s all carried off with a real concentric, anarchic verve. It’s phenomenally well acted by all the performers, but Danny Boyle deserves particular credit for imagining the story so wittily. It’s an extremely well narrated tale, and I like how Boyle never lets the story rest on its laurels at any point (mirroring perhaps the zany pressure Renton effects over his own attempts to quit drugs). There are clever touches where Renton’s voiceover will suddenly merge into one of the characters carrying out the described action, and the ‘cold turkey’ sequence plus the opening montage where all the players (and their ‘special’ personalities) are revealed in a shambolic 5-a-side match, are absolute classics.

Yes, perhaps Boyle allows himself to get a bit bogged down in an unnecessary third act, genre detour where Renton and co get involved in a drugs ‘sting’ in London, but even then, those scenes are an interesting throwback to what the capital looked like in that little window post-Thatcher but just before the ‘boom’, globalist Blair years arrived. (June 2014)

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