Trainspotting (1996) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for graphic drug use, sex, nudity, violence, language, and disturbing images
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremmer, Kelly Macdonald
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: John Hodge (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh)
Review published January 23, 2003
Sometimes there are those films that not many people will relate to in its subject matter, but the audacious energy keeps them riveted despite it all. Trainspotting is one such film.
Adapted from the novel by Irvine Welsh, John Hodge's (A Life Less Ordinary, The Final Curtain) screenplay is the second straight collaboration with director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, The Beach), as well as Ewan McGregor. "Trainspotting" is the rather useless habit of keeping track of the various arrival and departure times of trains at a station. Knowing this, the significance to the useless habit depicted in the film, namely heroin addiction, is evident.
Trainspotting is far from a glamorous depiction of the lives of heroin addicts amid a junkie culture, and the tone and subject matter of the film, with its graphic showcases of such distasteful images, such as a man searching through a filthy toilet for a fix, subconsciously give the effect of repulsion rather than titillation. It's a disgusting movie, but appropriate, because it's a disgusting habit.
Set in Edinsburgh, Scotland, the story mostly revolves around Mark Renton, played brilliantly by Ewan McGregor (Velvet Goldmine, The Phantom Menace). His life is a sputtering mess, wishing he could get off of the heroin addiction, yet also strangely attracted to the culture. When he isn't shooting up, he is concentrating all of his efforts for his next fix, and although he deeply disappoints his parents, his every ambition is concentrated into the habit. He is surrounded by some friends who also share his addiction, yet are so devoid of character, that they only add more fuel to the fire. The film is about their quest for happiness, their lack of attaining it, and the covering up of the unhappiness through their escapist addictions.
Much of the reason why Trainspotting is a mostly successful venture is due to Danny Boyle's energetic direction, sometimes surreal, sometimes symbolic, but always engaging. It's both a difficult film to watch, but impossible to avert your eyes from. The cast gives their all, and a good sense of musical accompaniment delivers the proper effect for the film's tone.
Trainspotting is not a film which will please everyone, as it deals with unsettling subject matter, plus it's chock-full of nausea-inducing sights and sounds. However, for those with an interest in the subject matter, and with strong stomachs, it's about as entertaining a film showcasing the pathetic lives of junkies as one could reasonably expect.
©2003 Vince Leo