John Wayne returns to his Oscar-winning role in this Western sequel, and Katharine Hepburn's along for the ride
On Film4: 17 Dec 11:00AM
Danny Boyle's hyper-kinetic heroin culture classic. Renton, Spud, Begbie and the rest score and scam their way through 1980s Edinburgh and London
The story and the soundtrack you know about. The hype and controversy too. Trainspotting, with its exhilarating approach to desperation, addiction and death, was one of the most vital British movies of the 1990s. Unlike previous films dealing with heroin culture - Christiane F, The Basketball Diaries - Danny Boyle's film has a comic strain so potent it deserves a health warning all its own. The plot itself is profoundly bleak but with kinetic style and relentless energy Boyle finds sympathy for Irvine Welsh's hopeless, drug-hungry scamsters.
Initial reaction, it's worth remembering, wasn't favourable and the film was criticised for glamorising smack. It doesn't. Ewan McGregor's Renton, amiable but morally ambivalent, succeeds - sort of - on the back of his sorry, selfish charm. His mates fare far, far worse.
There's the corruption of Tommy (Kevin McKidd), the death of Allison's (Susan Vidler) baby and Renton's grim response. ("I'm cooking up.") Robert Carlyle visibly vibrates as the violent Begbie and Johnny Lee Miller's Sean Connery-obsessed Sick Boy introduces a degree of knowing comedy. Boyle's slightly longer cut of the film on the 'Definitive Edition' DVD also provides a chance to follow the fate of Mother Superior/Swanney (Peter Mullan), whose intravenous habit costs him significantly more than in the original theatrical release. No one gets off lightly, and though early scenes celebrate the uneasy camaraderie of outlaw drug buddies, by the end everything and everyone is screwed.
Pivotal to Trainspotting's success is its use of music to echo and emphasise these characters' trajectories. Iggy Pop and Lou Reed knew all about the cyclical monotony of a life reduced to crave, hit and crave. At the film's heart however is the synthetic pulse of Underworld's 'Born Slippy' and the final scene blends image and tune to devastating effect.
Trainspotting set the style for an era, and seemed to herald a new age of British cinema. It's interesting now to compare Trainspotting's energy, style and structure with Boyle's Oscar-nabbing Slumdog Millionaire - there are distinct similarities.
All involved here give class-A performances, Boyle's direction is brilliantly ingenious and whole stretches of the script remain burned upon the brain. Trainspotting provides ample evidence that even the grimmest subject matter can make a great film. It's just a question of how you harness that raw power.
Arguably - and there are many who'll fight you for it - the best British film of the 1990s. Funny, disturbing, tragic and deeply addictive.
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