21 years have passed since Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) hit our screens. Never before or since in my life time has a film captured a time period as this did. So, we are back with Renton and the gang, have the years been kind?
Mark Renton has returned to Scotland 20 years after robbing his friends and escaping to Amsterdam. He finds Sick Boy (Simon) running a blackmail scheme, Spud still in the grip of heroin and the psychotic Frances Begbie safely locked up at her majesty’s pleasure. As Mark reconnects with his old pals he becomes involved with Simon’s scheme to open an illicit sauna, tries to help Spud get clean and there is the matter of Begbie’s escape from prison to contend with.
The film, if a bit disjointed at the start, is well directed. Danny Boyle retains the look and feel of the original, mixing gritty realism with some fantastically elements. He again uses techniques like split screen, freeze frame and a shaky camera, just like he did in the first film. John Hodge’s script is good and sensibly only touches on elements of, rather than adapts Porno, Irvine Welsh’s average sequel novel.
Ewen Bremner, again steals our hearts as the lovable Spud but it’s Robert Caryle’s Begbie that is stand out. His unhinged psycho is truly unnerving, but infused with some more tender moments that almost makes you root for him even if its just a little. It’s Mark and Simon who are at the core of the film, the pair don’t trust each other or even really like each other at times, but it is testament to the writing and Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller’s performance that you get a sense that in spite of it all, there is a deep lying friendship, even love at the core of their relationship. Edinburgh has never looked better than through Boyle’s camera, whether it is Arthur’s seat or a deserted Grassmarket, the city is almost a character in itself.
There are some real standout moments in the film. A split screen scene where Renton comes faces to face with Begbie in a toilet cubicle, followed by a chase through an eerily empty Edinburgh is thrilling. Renton and Simon recalling their darkest moments as they attempt to feel something as they remember Tommy (Kevin McKidd’s doomed character from Trainspotting), brings back the most harrowing element of the first film and McGregor’s new “Choose Life” monologue has been fittingly updated. Best of all however is Renton and Simon’s sing a long in a Glasgow bar, but I wont spoil that here.
While it was great to see all these characters again, it sadly doesn’t feel as authentic as it did in 1996. This isn’t helped by the numerous flashbacks and use of footage of them all as kids. At first, seeing the now mid 40s Renton, Sick Boy and Begbie juxtaposed not only with their 20 year old selves, but as young children added some real nostalgia but it seemed over used and by the end the “remember when we were kids” bit felt a bit laboured, it became a film about regret, which just wasn’t what I was looking for.
When Mark and Simon are on screen together the film is at its best, which makes the other characters suffer a little. Spud, while lovable finds himself reduced to a bit part player, which is a shame as his arc as an surprisingly aspiring writer had promise. Begbie, while his hard man bit is terrifying, we seem to be asked to forget that his prison escape was perpetuated by being stabbed in the liver and by the over blown finale, he is almost like a C word spouting terminator. Kelly McDonald and Shirley Henderson are wasted, with the former fairing slightly better, they are replaced by Simon’s bland and irritating euro girlfriend, who serves as little more than eye candy and as something to come between the leads.
I think the biggest disappointment for me was the soundtrack, while the original’s was a huge part of the film, with the likes of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and Underworld’s Born Slippy becoming part of pop culture because of their inclusion, the is nothing like that here. I just didn’t connect it this time around. The mixture of classic artists (Queen, Blondie) and modern ones I have never heard of didn’t quite work.
It is not that I didn’t like the film, because I did. It was great to see these characters now, for better or worse but it was like I kept remembering (sometimes prompted by the film) that it just wasn’t as good as the first one. The good does out weight the bad and it’s worth a watch for nostalgia purposes, but as a piece of era defining cinema? This a long way off the original.
Thanks for reading. Hope you folks enjoyed yourselves, catch ya later on down the trail.