Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting (1996) – I don’t know if I’m shocking anyone when I say that I have never tried heroin. I acknowledge that it must feel good if people are willing to destroy their lives to do it, but from everything I’ve ever seen of it it just looks like a hellish nightmare. I don’t know why I enjoy so many movies about drugs I’ve never done and never intend to do (Requiem for a Dream and Spun also come to mind), but I sure do seem to. While his directorial debut came earlier with Shallow Grave (a movie I intend to order from Netflix as soon as Criterion releases their Blu Ray of it), I think Trainspotting is the first time most of us in the States heard of English director Danny Boyle (who, over a decade later, won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire). It was a great attention-getter. Plus it’s Scottish, and just about anything sounds cool with those accents.

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is an on-again-off-again heroin addict (mostly on-again) who spends his time in questionable company. His friends are largely a motley crew of degenerates. There’s Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) a deeply cynical young man who quits heroin the same time as Renton, just to piss him off by showing him how easily he could do it. There’s the hapless Spud (Ewen Bremner), whose intensely thick Scottish accent is borderline unintelligible to my American ears. Here’s the violent psychopath Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle, more terrifying than he will ever be on Once Upon a Time). Finally, there’s Tommy (Kevin McKidd), the one well-adjusted member of Renton’s inner circle… but you can only associate with drug addicts for so long before it rubs off. Renton also finds something vaguely resembling love with a young lass named Diane (Kelly MacDonald, who instantly won my heart in this role), who comes with some complications of her own.

Beginning to the wonderful sounds of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” accompanied by a voice-over monologue about rejecting the same old boring life most people lead to do something that feels good, Trainspotting has a frenetic energy from the get-go. The movie doesn’t shy away from the disgusting (there’s a scene with a toilet that’s still a bit hard to watch) but it’s also a whole hell of a lot of fun. Like many of Boyle’s films, however, there’s a tonal shift that comes maybe about halfway through the movie. It becomes about growing up, about how maybe the things Renton so readily rejects in his opening voice over aren’t necessarily things to run away from (as he quite literally is doing in the movie’s opening). It also includes one nightmare-fuelling scene of withdrawals… The cast is excellent across the board. After Trainspotting Boyle kept making great films like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Millions, and 127 Hours (also A Life Less Ordinary, which I liked) but I still think Trainspotting is my favorite of his flicks. If you haven’t seen this movie, get on that. If you have, check it out again.

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