TRAINSPOTTING (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Graphic Heroin Use and Resulting Depravity, Strong Language, Sex, Nudity, and some Violence

Trainspotting poster

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Written by: John Hodge

(based on the novel TRAINSPOTTING by Irvine Welsh)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald & Peter Mullan

In 1996, Danny Boyle blew the sensibilities of European and American audiences with this little film. In many ways, TRAINSPOTTING seems like the 90’s equivalent of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and that’s some high praise. Based on Irvine Welsh’s acclaimed novel, TRAINSPOTTING centers on a group of junkies through the poverty-stricken areas of Scotland. Though it could be an unbearably bleak experience, there’s a dark sense of humor thrown into this film that keeps things from getting too depressing. TRAINSPOTTING pretty much lives up to all the acclaim I’ve been hearing about for years.

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Renton is a heroin addict struggling to get clean with his junkie buddies. This proves to be a more difficult task than he originally imagined as hardships, failed attempts at romance, and sheer temptation keeps dragging him through the ins-and-outs of addiction. He’s not alone as his motley crew of mates (which includes dim-witted Spud, crooked Sick Boy, clean-cut Tommy, and psychopathic Begbie) all navigate through various ups-and-downs that life generally throws at everyone (love, death, financial hardships). The key difference is that this group’s ups-and-downs also involve criminal activity, constant use of heroin and a whole lot of tragic circumstances.

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The plot of TRAINSPOTTING isn’t simply about the viewer following around a group of addicts, because the film takes plenty of shifts throughout the storyline. These plot points range from downright heart-breaking to darkly hilarious. Sometimes, they’re a blend of both. However, the characters are what really sell this film. Though the movie mainly focuses on Renton (a star-making performance from Ewan McGregor), the entire cast is filled with colorful individuals. Spud (Ewen Brenner) is an idiot who finds himself in horrible situations (one scene involving dirty bed sheets is hilarious and stomach-churning), but there’s a genuine sympathetic side to him. Jonny Lee Miller is slightly underused as Sick Boy, but makes the most of the screen time he’s given. Then there’s Robert Carlyle as Begbie. This psychotic character is much like the Irish version of Joe Pesci’s gangster in GOODFELLAS. He’s funny during one scene and terrifying in the next.

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Danny Boyle uses a lot of various editing tricks (crisply connecting different scenes with different characters), colorful visuals, an awesome soundtrack (I plan on playing these songs on my iPod for the foreseeable future), and a gritty atmosphere. There’s this almost indescribable dirty quality to the film that lends so much to the nature of the story being told. This is especially present during key moments, including a toilet scene near the beginning. The mix of humor and serious drama works out well in keeping the film from getting too damned bleak and unpleasant, but not so much to negate the devastating blow of heartbreaking moments. Danny Boyle and the cast tackle all the controversial subject matter with unapologetic glee.

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If there is any complaint to be had with TRAINSPOTTING, it would be that the pacing varies from place to place. The film begins in a rapid fire way that had me wondering if these 94 minutes were just going to fly by and leave me wanting a little more. However, the film slows down significantly as the plot proceeds. One might argue that it almost gets down to a crawl in a stretch involving Renton and Begbie stuck in the same apartment. This being said, the movie never lost my attention or did anything that could be considered a fault in my eyes. The ending is so satisfying that it left me completely happy. This is a pretty amazing topsy-turvy flick about drug addiction, criminal activity, and friendship.

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It’s no wonder that TRAINSPOTTING became such a hit upon its release! You cannot necessarily narrow this film into one clear category. Shocking, depraved, compelling, disturbing, darkly hilarious, and downright awesome! There’s not much else that I can say about TRAINSPOTTING that hasn’t already been said. If you haven’t seen this flick yet, go buy it now (it’s one you’ll want to own in your collection, that is if you don’t already have it)!

Grade: A

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