Written by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: February 23, 1996
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Brian Tufano
WRITER: John Hodge
“Trainspotting” is a British black comedy/drama that is based on a book by Irvine Welsh. I must admit that I’ve never read the novel, so I have no idea how good an adaptation this film is. I must also admit that I’ve never seen this movie though I do know that a lot of people hold this movie in high regard and consider it one of the best British films ever made.
The movie’s subject matter is about heroin and unlike plenty of uncomfortable films that shove the dangers of drug use down your throat, this movie disarms you with plenty of black humor. Before the movie can show you how bad drugs are, it decides to explain to you, at first, how enjoyable drug use can be when you first start. Then, it hits you over the head in a pretty big and tragic way as our main character begins to realize how destructive heroin can be.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) states at the beginning of the movie that he doesn’t want a “normal” life with normal problems. He simply wants to get high and forget his problems with his friends, Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller), Tommy (Kevin McKidd), Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Franco (Robert Carlyle). While they’re abusing drugs, this group of slackers do anything in their power to get high, including stealing money from their parents and robbing other people in order to get the drugs.
Mark is not completely unaware of his situation. He even tries to quit early in the film and detox on his own. Unfortunately, addiction is always around the corner and he always comes back to the hard stuff. The film also examines how his friends are negative influences in his life and how they enable his addiction.
The thing I love about this movie is that all the elements work. The black humor is funny when it is present and the drama definitely hits home as well. There is admittedly one disturbing image in the movie that shows just how emotionally shut off people can be when they’re looking for their next hit. If you don’t like seeing babies harmed in movies, then you may want to avert your eyes from this one.
The cast is also fantastic, especially from McGregor who gave his breakout performance in this movie. Mark does some pretty despicable things, but at his core, he is so likable that you still want to see him pull through and achieve a better life. You are not really supposed to like Mark, but like his disappointed parents, you really want him to find the help that he needs.
His friends are destructive forces of nature. Sick Boy likes to think that he has his shit together, but he reveals that he would screw over any of his friends if he had the chance. Franco is really a drug user of a different type. He’s addicted to violence and his psychopathic tendencies justifiably scare the hell out of everyone else.
Miller and Carlyle play Sick Boy and Franco, respectfully. Miller’s smug attitude in the movie and Carlyle’s wild eyes are enough to tell you that these two people could destroy themselves and their friends. In addition to McGregor, these two actors proved their worth with this movie.
Another person who showed the world what he could do was director Danny Boyle. Today, we know Boyle for hits such as “28 Days Later” and “Slumdog Millionaire”. This movie contains his signature quick-cutting style and distinctive imagery that helps sell the story.
Having gone into this movie with fresh eyes, I didn’t know how much I would enjoy this movie. I didn’t have the history with it that other fans of the movie have from when it was released in 1996. Thankfully, I can say that the movie takes a successful look at drug use and how destructive it can be without jumping on a soapbox and beating us over the head about it.
A great cast, a good story, and solid direction make this a film that stands the test of time. If you get the chance to see it, don’t deny yourself.
P.S. – One of the reasons that I wanted to go see this movie was due to the fact that Boyle and the entire original cast are returning early next year for “T2: Trainspotting”, a sequel that will catch up with these characters 20 years after the original film. That movie is currently set to be released on January 27, 2017.