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Movie Reviews




Released: February 23rd 1996 (UK)

Directed By: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller

Certificate: 18 (UK)

Reviewed By: Jason Coyle

It is a funny thing to return to a film that has a seismic effect on you when you saw it first. This reviewer would have been 20 when Trainspotting burst onto our screens in the summer of 1996. It took three visits to the cinema to fully digest the film and everything that takes place within it. Aside from a DVD viewing soon after its release, this is the first time I have viewed it in about 15 years.

Remembering a film from that long ago invites a nostalgia for something that may not be there. A lot of film when revisited can seem dated or not as good as you remembered. It may not even be the film’s fault. It could be you and how you view film that has changed. You can be older and wiser: the intervening years giving you a better depth of knowledge about film in general. Or it could just be personal taste. Loving a film is a personal, intimate thing. Each person will get something different from watching the same film.  For me, I was pleased that the impact of this movie had not faded with time.

Trainspotting opens with what is probably one of the best opening scenes in film history. As an introduction to characters there are very few films that do it as well as this. With whiplash editing, director Danny Boyle introduces us to Renton (Ewan Mc Gregor), Spud (Ewan Bremner), Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle).  By introducing them this way we see their characteristics and motivations from the outset. There is also their friend Tommy (Kevin Mc Kidd) who at the beginning of the film is the conscience of the piece. He is a fitness fanatic, who doesn’t do drugs or tell lies.

You would think after the speed of the opening, the film would let up but Boyle keeps the pace up. What is most interesting about this is that Boyle is not afraid to show either the seductive powers or the horrors of heroin. Therein we see the main characters shooting up and enjoying the sensations. But there is a serious price to pay. All the main characters are shown to be shoplifting and beating up people in order to get money for drugs. Renton is seen stealing money from his own family. But whilst all this sounds grim, there is a thread of black comedy running throughout the film that is often hilarious and quite troubled. This, coupled with a pulsating and breathtaking soundtrack help drive the narrative on. During one particularly drug induced nightmare the frenetic pace comes to a halt amid devastation. It is the outcome of this sequence which carries the characters towards the climax of the film.

The acting ensemble is uniformly excellent. Robert Carlyle has never been better as Begbie: a violent psychopath, who carves a path of destruction throughout the film. There is a tension every time he is on screen. Mc Gregor is mesmerising as Renton – believable in trying to seduce Diane (Kelly Mc Donald) a girl he meets in a club. They are ably supported by Bremner and Miller, who are superb in all their scenes. A particular highlight is when Spud wakes up in his girlfriends bed having had far too much too much to drink. The scene at the breakfast table is disgusting and hilarious in equal measure. But it is Mc Kidd as Tommy who shines in a role that is initially whiter than white and has the most interesting narrative arc in the film. He is brilliant and heartbreaking.

Trainspotting is a modern classic, one of the very best British films ever made. It has not dated one iota in the last 15 years. Bitingly funny and achingly sad at times, it is a visceral masterpiece of acting, editing and direction. Boyle would go on to make some very good films after this but none better.

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