Retro Film Review (1) – Trainspotting (1996)

In the first of the ‘Retro Film’ pieces, and with the recent release of the highly anticipated sequel, we will take a look back at Boyles cult classic to see what exactly about it captured the time and ethos of generation and location so perfectly. Firstly to consider; the setting. It is very rare that a film originating from an area of (apologies to any Scotts) relatively insignificant local has an impact on a wider audience, propelling it into a larger field of cultural praise. But back in 1996, Trainspotting achieved just this with its portrayal of heroin addicts living in Edinburgh, Scotland, adopting a satirical “choose life” philosophy

The film, based off the novel written by Irvine Welsh, was adapted into the Academy Award-nominated screenplay by John Hodge, and documents the lives of the following Scottish addicts:  the reluctant Renton (McGregor), the innocent and troubled Spud (Bremner), the Sean Connery-obsessed Sick Boy (Miller) and the short-tempered Begbie (Carlyle). Each is battling some form of addiction in one shape or form and all are soon thrown into a world of crime and deceit as a result of their addictions. This was Boyle’s second feature following the release of his 1994 thriller Shallow Grave, and by a long shot, was the film where Boyle truly displays his effective kinetic style of film making, one which he would later go on to display in Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Trance.

The film charges along at a light speed pace and achieves the unique task of balancing some rather amusing yet disgusting moments, ranging from the infamous ‘The Worst Toilet in Scotland’ sequence, to Spud’s morning discovery and then to some extremely disturbing an unsettling scenes such as Renton’s horrifying episode involving a baby while suffering withdrawal symptoms from heroin.

All of the performances here are exceptional, especially Bremner’s portrayal of Spud who is a frail, sympathetic individual whom you cannot help but feel sorry for yet at the same time, wish that he would screw his head on and cop on to the situation. Carlyle’s Begbie is also extremely entertaining to watch in his unpredictability and you can tell that he is throwing his all into his performance as a deranged lunatic who loves nothing more than engaging in physical confrontation with other unfortunate folk. It’s safe to say that you wouldn’t want to accidentally knock this man’s pint over if you encounter him at a pub!

The film is roughly 90 minutes long which is a perfect length for this type of film as it doesn’t over stay its welcome. If there were any cons associated with this film it would have to be that because of its extreme content it is a difficult film to recommend. This is Boyle at his best and the film that cemented his place as one of the great British filmmakers. With an excellent soundtrack and incredibly gritty aesthetics, this film captures the lifestyles of these Scottish lowlifes beautifully. Let’s hope that lightning strikes twice with its sequel set 20 years later.Sean Moriarty

Director: Danny Boyle


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